Author's note: Thanks to everyone for the reviews! I am really nervous about posting this now. I hope it all makes sense and isn't disappointing. ;-)
Smoke and Mirrors in Ballykissangel
"I can't believe it! Liam!"
"Just last night I saw him, he was the picture of health!"
Fitzgerald's was buzzing with locals that night, speculating on the latest tragedy to strike Ballykissangel. Peter was interested to see that Mossy Phelan was amongst those present, and vowed to keep a close eye on him.
"What exactly happened?" Peter was trying to make heads or tails of all the conversations around him.
"Apparently, he went off the road between Cilldargan and Dunadee," Siobhan, who was sitting next to him, explained. "You know, that narrow curve with the steep embankment on one side?"
Peter could just about imagine where she meant. There wasn't even a railing there, just reflective posts to alert drivers of the curve in the road. But Liam knew that stretch like the back of his hand, must have driven it hundreds of times. The only thing Peter could think of was that he'd had to veer to avoid hitting an oncoming car that had taken the curve too wide. "Was anyone else involved?" he asked.
Siobhan shook her head. "Too early to tell. At least Eamonn didn't see anyone else up on the road. He was the one who discovered the wreck. Fell onto one of his pastures."
"Awful," Peter said, feeling sickened by the report.
"Tis," Siobhan agreed, and took poked at her drink. Clearly, she was also not feeling in the best form at the moment.
"D'you think it had anything to do with Father Mac's murder?" Padraig ventured from Siobhan's other side.
"How do you mean?" Peter asked.
"Well, maybe he was their man. Investigators closing in on him. Couldn't take the heat."
"Suicide?" Peter was aghast.
"Stranger things have happened," Siobhan commented.
"But why in the world would Liam have wanted to kill Father Mac?"
"Jealousy ... money ... cover-up ... the usual," Padraig mumbled.
"Cover-up could be right," a man on Peter's other side interjected. "Remember he was blabbing the other night about seeing that mysterious monk the night of the murder? Maybe he was too close to the mark. Had to be silenced."
Everyone thought about this for a moment.
"Could be like that albino in that movie..." Padraig suggested ominously. "What was it called?"
"The DaVinci Code," Siobhan supplied.
"That's the one," Padraig agreed. "The one with all the blood. Could be a big Vatican cover-up."
"Oh, stop it, all of you," Peter said, disgusted. "There was no Vatican cover-up."
"Still, maybe Liam was onto something. If it was that monk, he wouldn't want to be fingered," the man concluded.
Peter was about to point out that there had been no monk in the pub on the night when Liam had been talking about it, and therefore he wouldn't have known that Liam had seen him, when he noticed that Mossy had gotten up from his table and was on his way to the door, looking pale.
Peter excused himself and pushed his way through the crowd to follow him, but by the time he got outside, Mossy was nowhere in sight. He blew out a breath in frustration. He was certain that the man knew more than he was letting on.
Both the murder and Liam's accident continued to be the talk of the town for the next several days. Peter had no more time to consult with Ambrose, as he had to take extra duties until the diocese could send a new parish priest.
One day, Peter found himself once again in Hendley's, making a few necessary purchases. He recalled the collection box that he had put his spare change into the last time, and looked for it again at the register, but didn't see it.
When he mentioned it to Kathleen, she frowned a little and said, "It's a funny thing. Ambrose came in yesterday and took it. Said he needed it as evidence." She didn't know any more about it, and Peter left with a funny feeling in his stomach.
"Do you have a minute, Father?" Ambrose stood at the door of the vestry, where Peter was struggling to sew up the hem of one of his vestments that had gotten caught in the car door that morning.
"Sure, Ambrose," Peter said, glad to straighten his back for a moment. "What's up?"
"I'll be wanting that envelope now. The one from Niamh." He sounded very business-like, which gave Peter a sinking feeling.
"So you've cracked the case, then?" he asked cautiously.
Ambrose gave a curt nod. "Unfortunately. I'd rather not bring Niamh back until the worst of it's over, but it'll be all over the papers tomorrow. Better she hears it from me."
"I'm not sure I follow you, Ambrose... Who was it?"
Ambrose's jaw clenched, and for a moment, Peter thought that he looked like he was going to cry, but he was able to get out the one word: "Brian."
"He never tried to poison her," Assumpta explained. "He put the poison in the vitamins and chocolates after he'd taken them from Niamh, before he turned the samples over to Ambrose, to mislead the investigation."
"Then the letter—"
"Was also planted, after he shot him."
Peter was sitting in the kitchen at Fitzgerald's. The pub wasn't open yet, but Assumpta had asked Peter over so that she could fill him in on what Niamh had told her on the phone. She'd decided not to come back just yet.
"But they did argue," Peter recalled. "Father MacAnally was going to tell Ambrose something."
"Oh yes, about Wicklow Catholic Charities. The old sneak had set it up to funnel donations into his own pockets, as well as to launder dirty money from his other scams."
"But how did he do it? He was at the pub the whole time that night."
"Did you actually see him? That was the brilliant part. Mossy was in on it, although he didn't know he was being set up as an accomplice to murder. He just had to keep his end of the argument going long enough and loud enough to make everyone out there think that Brian was in here with him. When he heard about Liam's accident, though, he got cold feet. Thought he might be next for silencing."
"So was Liam's death an accident or not?"
"I don't know if we'll ever know. Niamh says the gardai couldn't find anything to indicate the truck had been tampered with. The autopsy was clean as well."
"And Brian's not telling."
"Not yet, anyway. Give him a few days in gaol, he might beg for a plea-bargain."
"So how did Brian do it? You said we were only supposed to think he was in the kitchen with Mossy. How did he get out?"
Assumpta walked over to the back door and swung it open.
Peter slapped himself on the forehead. "Are we all eejits!"
"Luckily Ambrose isn't. I remember, that was one of the first things he did that night when he came in here to set up his temporary headquarters, was to check whether the door was locked."
"Nope." She closed the door again and went to lean back against the sink.
"But someone would have seen him," Peter pointed out. "He must have had incredible luck, to get over to the station and back without you, Liam, Brendan, or your supplier seeing him."
"Luck... or a monk's robe."
Peter's mouth dropped open, and he couldn't help laughing a little.
Assumpta nodded. "Yup. He was the monk I saw. Or at least, that's what they're assuming. Plus, it was dark. Even without the robes, he might have been able to do it."
"So he slipped out, wearing the robe, ran up to the station, intercepted Father Mac before he could drop the letter into the mailbox, shot him, planted the fake letter, and ran back in time to reappear with Mossy coming out of the kitchen."
"Niamh said that his cell phone records show he made one more call to Father Mac after you'd left him up at the church. Probably said something along the lines of him regretting what he said, and that he'd meet him at the station to turn himself in. He also knew that Ambrose was in charge of Kieran that night, and that he always takes him out in his pram to get him to go to sleep."
"But he must have been planning it for some time. The poisoning..."
"He made that up after the fact, remember."
"I'm not so sure," Peter said, feeling himself get hot at the realization that he'd never told anyone about the mysterious visitor to his confessional. He wondered now whether that had been Brian, already planting the seeds of his nefarious plot. "He had to write that letter beforehand, in order to have it ready. He had to get a set of robes for his disguise."
"I think that last one may have been a case of opportunity striking," Assumpta said. "One of the monks staying here that weekend had spilled soup all over himself at lunch, and I'd washed the robes for him. They were in here as well, folded up right over there, waiting to be returned to him."
"And all that to avoid getting caught with his hand in the cookie-jar himself. I always thought Brian's ethics were somewhat questionable, but to resort to murder..."
"I know. I never would have believed it of him myself. If you ask me, I think he did it for Niamh – and Kieran – more than for himself."
"What do you mean?"
"He knew he would be convicted with the evidence that Father Mac had gathered on the fake charity. And the Church wouldn't let him get off with a slap on the wrist. He was looking at hard time. He didn't want to disappoint his daughter and grandson. And the tragedy is, it ended up being a hundred times worse."
"How is Niamh doing, by the way?"
"She's devastated, of course. But she's strong. She'll come through this. They're going to stay away another week, she said. At least until the next big story takes over the headlines."
"And how about you? I was worried about you, you know."
Assumpta blinked, her eyes large. "You were? Didn't think someone was out to poison me or murder me in my sleep, did you?"
Peter smirked. "No, I just... wanted to see justice served. I knew all along you didn't have anything to do with it."
"Oh, and how did you know that?" Assumpta teased. "I had a large, undocumented loan from Niamh, was Brian's business rival, was known to hate Father Mac with a vengeance..."
"Because I know you, Assumpta Fitzgerald. I know you." He held her gaze.
"Are you sure?" she asked softly, after a moment.
Peter smiled and looked down. "Probably not." As usually happened when he was alone with Assumpta, an uncomfortable silence spread through the room. "Well, I'd better be going. New PP's coming today, wants me to show him around." He stood and brushed off his trousers.
"Ah, right," Assumpta said, smirking slightly. "Duty calls."
As Peter went to the door, Assumpta called after him, "Hey Peter..."
He paused and turned back, one hand on the door jamb. "Yeah?"
"Sure. For what?"
"For believing in me."
Peter ducked his head and went out.
So? Did you guess right? Let me know what you thought. :-)