Chapter 7: Faith (part II)
It was Sunday; thus, Neil was busy.
Although not nearly so well known or widely read as the New York Times or the Tribune, the Icarus was still a giant in its own right, and it was most certainly a colossus compared to the local publications that made up the bulk of the Samaritan's clientele. The company operated primarily in Manhattan, but a notable portion of their readership had come to be located in Brooklyn in recent years. Within Manhattan, they did their printing in-house. However, the new owner had decided that it would be cheaper to outsource Brooklyn production to a local shop than to maintain an additional printing press and organize a new delivery system in the borough across the river.
The sun was beginning to creep up over the horizon, and Neil rushed another bundle of newspapers from the back room to the metal wagon sitting outside. The stacks were tall and fat and held together by crosses of twine, and he could fit exactly six of them into the transport. The pack that Neil had just put down was the very last of the set.
"Hurry up, Neil," complained Max in bored frustration from atop his bicycle, the long shadow of the print shop's awning falling over his face.
With a great heave on the coarse rope, Neil pulled the loaded wagon forward the few inches necessary to hook it to the clip on the back of Max's bike. He gave the system a tug to ensure it was secured, and then he gave his friend a thumbs up.
Gasping with the moderate strain of the past few minutes, he wheezed, "You're good to go."
Max rode off to deliver the teetering stacks of paper to a number of news stands elsewhere in Brooklyn. Nerris had already preceded him with cargo meant to be delivered to the doorsteps of a number of wealthy subscribers to the publication. Neil headed back inside - he needed to pick up his bike and his own batch of papers to hit the south coast and return to the Samaritan before Max and Nerris finished their own routes. Timing was everything when it came to the news, according to the journalists and editors at the Icarus - and who was he to disagree when they were the ones to write the headlines?
'Religion, Prohibition, and Crime - Good Intentions Gone Awry'
Riding in a moderately crowded subway car on a track leading from his neighborhood to north Brooklyn, David pondered the conversation that he had shared with Gwen yesterday as they left the bakery. He was of two minds as to whether he wished that their time together had been longer or shorter.
"So," he had asked curiously as they strolled down the sidewalk, "Why is it that you became a police photographer?"
Half-shrugging and half-stretching, Gwen had lazily replied, "Family stuff, I guess. My dad was a psychologist on the city's bankroll before he retired. He also liked guns and photography. Taught me a lot about cameras."
"What about your mother?"
Silent contemplation reigned, and for a few slow moments, their footsteps were the only sound in the world.
Gwen stated with some amount of hesitance, "I guess… my mom's the reason why I turned down a job at the Tribune to stay with the NYPD."
The box of doughnuts was beginning to slide out of his grip, so David shifted the positioning of the container to set it over his left arm. He waited patiently for Gwen to offer more information or keep to herself as she chose.
Eventually, she continued explaining, "She grew up in a bad part of Brooklyn. She knew a lot of people who were caught up in the wrong crowd, and she saw a lot of things that should have been reported to the police but never were. She got out of there as soon as she could - but those experiences haunted her for the rest of her life. Sometimes, I think they're what killed her…. My mom had a lot of regrets. Maybe what I'm doing now is just trying to make up for them so that I don't wind up like her."
With a bump of her elbow against David's, Gwen changed the subject, "What about you, Mr. Goody-two-shoes? We all got a sob story."
David laughed, saying, "Mine isn't so dramatic, really. Once upon a time, my mom died, and I went to the orphanage. After Lilac Academy, I thought I'd just work at Campbell's as staff for the rest of my life, but then Columbia offered me a place in their law program. Three years down the line, I wasn't very happy with the degree. Then, an internship with the NYPD put me on a better career path. The end."
"Come on," scoffed the woman good-naturedly, "There has to to be more to it than that. You're holding out on me."
He feigned offense, huffing exaggeratedly, "I most certainly am not!"
"We all got a sob story," reiterated Gwen wisely, "I'll forgive you for not remembering yours. Most of us forget 'em after a month of decent pay and a few dead bodies."
He chided, "I don't think you give people enough credit. Everyone is good at heart."
Gwen raised an eyebrow, asking, "Even Chapel Jack?"
David had faltered, his feet stumbling on the sidewalk, his carefree grin turning into a perturbed frown, and his hands nearly fumbling the box of doughnuts. It took him several jarring steps to reclaim his balance. Gwen seemed to recognize that she had touched on a delicate topic, and so the conversation redirected itself to the innocuous subject of baseball. Not long after, they arrived at the intersection where their paths diverged. Gwen needed to go home to her apartment, and David needed to catch the subway back to Brooklyn. They parted on amicable terms.
There came the shrill screech of brakes on metal, and the subway car gradually ground to a halt.
David gripped the edge of his seat in an effort to reduce the amount of jostling he was experiencing. A few moments after the vehicle came to a complete stop, a number of passengers stood and milled toward the doors, which were pulled open by uniformed attendants. They debarked, and almost immediately, more passengers entered the car to replace them. Hats and coats and dresses of all shapes, sizes, and colors came aboard, and all of them blended together in the perpetual, idyllic twilight of the electric lamps.
In the morning light, the vaulted ceilings glowed, the gold-leaf of the pillars gleamed, and the stained glass windows set the pale walls and carpeted floor ablaze with jewel-like colors. Throngs of people dressed at their Sunday best were filing in through the tall, regal doors of the church. Men marched mechanically to the pews with their wives fanning themselves in the summer heat and their children fidgeting uncomfortably in formal clothes. Many churchgoers engaged verbally with each other, murmuring in polite and familiar conversation. A number of clergymen stood near the pulpit, having their own discussions.
Although he was among the earliest to arrive, Detective Quentin Marter chose to sit in a pew at the back of the congregation. He remained still and quiet, taking in the musty scent of wooden benches and well-worn paper and the way that the white noise of people's chatter reverberated solemnly over his head.
"Hello," chimed a feminine voice from the aisle to his right, "Mind if I sit here?"
Marter looked over to see a young woman, dark-skinned with pale hair and paler eyes, standing at the side of the pew. Her pearl earrings matched the color of her blouse and complimented the the cut of her violet skirt. With nary a hair out of place in her bun and not a stain on her teeth, she smiled at him as pleasantly as a summer's starry night.
He glanced away and shifted over, grumbling, "Go ahead."
She took a seat next to him on the otherwise empty pew. The bench creaked as she settled her slight frame upon it. The added weight of another person caused a string of rosary beads hanging from the pocket behind the pew to fall to the ground. The wooden spheres bounced on the carpet, and the cross of the necklace became tangled in the dark string. No one noticed.
Making casual, courteous conversation, she said, "Not to seem rude, but I don't believe that I've seen you here before."
Slowly and woodenly, Marter replied, "I ain't been to church in a while."
"Oh?" her previously feigned interest became a shade closer to genuine, "What's brought you back?"
His clipped answer went, "Loss of a friend."
"I'm sorry," came the tactful consolation, "That must be hard. I hope you'll find comfort in today's sermon. Father Miller is an excellent speaker."
"Hmph," grunted Marter in gruff response, "Been a long time since I set foot here. I don't know these preachers."
Her analytical gaze rested upon him in silence for a while. She looked at him as if he were some mild curiosity from the circus. He looked back at her pale eyes with the mistrust and veiled scorn of an old man browbeaten by far worse things than a young socialite. Her straight-backed posture and ceramic face and her glassy eyes sung of glaciality and indifference. His slouch and his glower and his hunched shoulders screamed coarse suspicion. She tilted her head in idle calculation. He settled in his seat like dust atop the crucifixes on the walls.
It was somewhat surprising when she held out her hand and offered with the well-mannered air of an upper-class woman, "I could introduce you, stranger."
After a moment of heavy consideration, Marter shed his reluctance and took her proffered hold. The two of them stood up, and she took her hand away.
He named himself as they edged out of the pew and into the aisle, "Quentin."
She identified herself with measured grace, "Jen. Welcome to St. Augustine's."
Six and five - homicides and crime scenes. The numbers that summed up the initial killing spree, up to and including the highly publicized Sparrow Street Slaughter, that the NYPD had deduced was the work of one person. Four and two - children and adults. The numbers that described at the most elementary level the identities of the victims, disregarding entirely their names, their families, their hobbies, and everything else that once made them alive. Three - the number of copycat killers who managed to muddy up the investigation before Detective Marter caught them. One - the number of real witnesses that had been found in the whole of New York.
It had been a perplexing case from the beginning.
David was journeying up the steps of the narrow townhouse whose address was on record as that of Cecilia Weisz, and he was running through a mental checklist of things that he hoped he had not left at home or at the office. His badge? Buttoned into an inner pocket. His gun? Clipped to his belt. His hat? Grazing the tips of his ears. Everything that Detective Marter had repeatedly reprimanded him for leaving the office without was on his person - along with the carton of doughnuts from Bon Voyage. The box was a crisp, glossy, robin's-egg blue that seemed particularly noticeable against the earthy tones and mostly drab color palette of the neighborhood.
He found himself slowing his gait as he thought about the disappointing interviews he had engaged in yesterday. Sighing in consternation, he let go of his frustration and turned his thoughts to the bright side instead - he was at Cecilia's house. Whether or not the meeting went well, it would be the last of his follow-ups for the weekend. David could return to the station to try to approach the Chapel case from a new angle, and a traumatized mother could be left to continue putting herself back together enough to regain custody of her remaining son.
At the doorstep to the house, he swiveled about to appreciate, for a few moments, the beauty of the town.
There was a lanky maple tree growing across the street, and the sound of birdsong rang out from its branches like church bells. The golden light of the morning sun cast long, ebony shadows across the cobblestone road. A street lamp with a burned-out bulb had an ornate spider web clinging to its crossbar, and dewdrops were diamonds on display in the web's hair-thin lines. Cecilia's neighborhood was located at the top of a stout hill with a lovely view beyond the local sights. In the distance, David could make out the impressionistic silhouette of the Manhattan skyline against a backdrop of cottony clouds.
When he turned back around to face the door, he noticed that there was lavender growing in Cecilia's window boxes. Little bundles of pastel-colored stars, the flowers were in full bloom. Their earthy, honey-sweet scent hit his nose and sent his mind back to distant days spent at the Campbell Orphanage. Planting flowers around the building, taking trips to the park, visiting museums and libraries and the zoo with a motley crew of friends with whom he no longer kept in regular contact. Nostalgia hit him like a particularly wistful brick. He took the time to enjoy the memories.
Feeling content and invigorated, David pushed away his musings and at last made himself known. Tucking the doughnuts under his left arm, he took the door's time-tarnished, bronze knocker in his right hand and tapped it against pale wood. The noise of his knocking struck his ears as quite the racket, but this was due at least in part to the acoustics of the doorstep's dome-shaped awning and the building's recessed entrance.
There came muffled footsteps and creaking from inside the house.
Faintly, woman's voice warbled, "I'll be there in a moment!"
A stiff, cold breeze rushed by as if it were late to Sunday worship, catching the tail of David's coat and the brim of his hat in its grip. David stepped farther into the recessed entrance to escape the chill that the wind brought with it and pulled his hat further down to keep the accessory on his head. The writhing air stilled as quickly as it had come alive.
The handle turned, and the door swung half-open, just wide enough for a gauntly built woman to stand in the gap. She wore a gentle smile at first, but it disappeared almost immediately. She froze and stared at him as if he were some strange spectacle escaped from the circus.
Her hair, straight and plain and an unassuming brown, was cut modestly. Her wide eyes were a pear green color that was neither notably dull nor notably bright. Her forehead showed stress wrinkles, and her slack mouth looked entirely too dry and chapped to be healthy for her. Cecilia Weisz looked tired.
She also looked dazed.
David put on a wide grin and greeted her pleasantly, "Hello, ma'am."
And then she looked terrified.
The door slammed shut in David's face. He took a step back in astonishment.
Several moments passed in uncertainty, but eventually, he knocked on the door once again. He waited a few moments more, but there came no response.
He said, "Mrs. Weisz? Could you please answer me?"
David tried turning the handle, but the door was locked. He knocked more loudly and called the woman's name again. She did not respond, and he could not hear her moving inside the house. His frown became more severe and his brow became more creased. He was growing concerned.
Bang, went the crack of a gunshot within the building. It was followed by a heavy thump that coincided with David's stomach dropping in despair and with the fall of the pastry box onto the pavement. He hammered a fist on the door and twisted the handle repeatedly and even tried to kick the entrance in, all to no avail.
He shouted with rising panic, "Mrs. Weisz! Cecilia!"
But because she had been the sole inhabitant of her house and because the neighbors were attending church, no living ears were there to hear him.
Author's Note: As a word of warning: these previously weekly updates are about to become very irregular. School, college + scholarship applications, the upcoming FRC robotics season, and a number of other commitments demand my attention in real life; the amount of time I put into writing is going to take a sharp downturn. Follow this story to be notified of new chapters whenever they may arrive.
I'd love to hear some thoughts on this fic and this chapter in the comments below!