Flesh of the Martyr (Part II)

Community

Diego shuffled nervously in the moulded plastic chair. The lights in the community centre were harsh fluorescent strips reflecting off the yellowed walls. Outside it was already dark. He was hyper-aware of everything around him, of the sound his sneakers made as he scuffed them against the worn carpet, of the smell of cleaning fluids emanating from the  entrance to the bathroom, of the children’s pictures pinned to a wall display that were slowly starting to curl at the edges and peel away from their fastenings. There was a jug of cold water on the table in front of him and a little stack of plastic cups. A droplet of condensation dripped down the outside and pooled on the Formica surface. Likewise, he could feel a bead of sweat on his forehead start to run down the side of his face. There was no air-conditioning in the centre and even with the sun down it was a balmy evening. He wiped the back of his sleeve across his face and sucked on his lower lip. He was about to get up and leave. He couldn’t breathe. His whole body was willing him to run, to remove himself from this situation as soon as possible. It didn’t matter, after all. It was just a little thing. He could deal with it. He’d been dealing with it his whole life.

The sound of a toilet flushing came from the bathroom and his eyes flicked to the door, standing slightly ajar. A shadow moved inside and he heard the faucet run and a low humming as hands were soaped, rinsed and then dried on one of the hand towels. The door opened, and a short man walked out and smiled at him. He was latino, wearing a priest’s collar and a short-sleeved black shirt. His dark, thinning hair was gelled back and he had a very faint moustache. His skin was clear and youthful, but Diego estimated he was probably in his late 30s or early 40s. He stopped, still wiping his hands. “It’s Diego, yes?”

Diego bobbed his head silently. The priest grabbed a chair and sat down, not on the other side of the table but next to him, at a slight angle. “You prefer Spanish or English?”

“English.”

“You want some water?”

“No. Thanks.”

He smiled again and took a cup from the stack, taking his time pouring from the jug. He took a long sip before putting it back down on the table. Diego continued to fidget.

“All right. Now, there was something you wanted to talk to me about, is that right?”

“Yes…”

“You don’t have to be nervous around me. I’m here to help. That’s why I’ve come here to California, you know. To help troubled boys.”

“Boys.” Diego turned the word over in his mouth.

“Young men. Young men with certain problems that confuse them. Does that describe you, Diego?”

“You know it does.” He was getting frustrated by this priest’s stalling.

“All right. You seem like a smart kid,” the priest said, “let’s cut the small talk. I know why you’re here.”

“Right.” Diego was relieved. It was easier not to have to say it.

“You feel like you’re different from your friends, yes? You have thoughts you keep hidden from them, and from your family.”

Diego nodded. “Uh huh.”

“I understand.”

“Do you?”

“Of course.” He looked thoughtful for a second. “Let me show you something, Diego.” He stood up and crossed over to a battered bookshelf on one side of the room. He returned with a children’s picture book. “Forgive me,” he said as he sat down, “but it’s the subject matter that’s important.” He laid it on the desk and began to leaf through it. It was about the lives of the saints. “Look at this, Diego.”

He glanced at the pictures. Saints, almost all bearded white men, being subjected to various tortures and methods of execution. “What about it?”

“There is a long tradition in Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, of venerating martyrs.”

“Yeah, I know…”

“Of course you do. You’re a good boy.” He took another gulp of water. Diego noticed he was sweating too, and he licked his lips every now and then as if he was desperately thirsty. Well, it was warm. “Theology is a complex subject. How are your grades, Diego?”

“Huh?”

“You seem like a smart young man. Did I say that already? You do okay at school?”

He shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”

“It isn’t easy, is it?”

“What?”

“Being one of the smart ones. I was the same growing up. An outsider.”

“I’m not…I mean…I got friends.”

“Sure. But, for better or worse, your community doesn’t put a lot of stock in book smarts. Is that fair to say?”

“Well, no one expects me to become a doctor, if that’s what you mean.”

“They’d rather you fit in, right? Didn’t rock the boat. It’s all about tradition. Believe me, I know all about that.”

“I just want to be normal.”

“Well, Diego, you aren’t normal. But listen, I won’t dumb this down for you. I want to talk about religion. I’m a priest after all. Look at these pictures. Look how these men suffer.”

Diego’s eyes flicked to the book again. The illustrations were of only middling quality, but they demonstrated the old stories well enough. Saints getting hacked up, burned alive, all imploring the heavens for mercy and getting none at all. One man, bearded like the others, a beatific expression on his face, hands clasped together in prayer, had the flames of a pyre licking up his body, naked except for a loincloth. Roman soldiers stood around, watching his horrific death. He began to see what the priest was getting at. “Martyrdom is…”

“It’s ingrained into our teachings. Guilt and atonement. Suffering. Look at Christ himself, and the Mother, weeping for him. These aren’t coincidences. They are a metaphor, for the sufferings of the flesh that we all endure on Earth.”

“Right…”

“So you see, even the holy saints understand.”

Diego scratched his nose. “Okay. But, how does that help me?”

The priest shut the book sharply and laughed when Diego jumped. “Relax,” he said softly, “I’m here to help. You feel guilty. You want to be absolved.”

“Yeah…yeah I guess.”

“Of course. That’s what we all seek. But sin is everywhere. It’s hard to avoid.” He opened the book again and gestured to the image of a half-naked man on his knees, pierced by arrows. “Even looking at these crude drawings, you feel it, don’t you, Diego?”

“I…I suppose…”

“I was the same. Growing up in Mexico. I saw bodies of men. The flesh of martyrs. I thought I was different, because I was impure, where they were perfect before God. But then I learned a little more.” He tapped his collar absently. “I took my vows and immersed myself in the teachings of the Church. I learned about sin, and about redemption. I realised that sin is in all of us, that it was in the saints, and even in Christ Himself. Yes, for he carried all humanity’s sins on our behalf, see? But always the story is the same. The noble man, the martyr, bearing his sin stoically, looking to God for deliverance.”

“And eventually dying?” Diego finished.

“A metaphor. There are other ways to burn. Other ways to be a martyr. It is known as the passion, and not without reason. You see, martyrdom is to exist in a state of grace. The grace of God is the forgiveness, the love, granted to us because of His desire to do so, not our actions. To sin is to give oneself over to grace, to admit one’s guilt and repent of one’s sins, to humble oneself before the mercy of the Father. This is central to the Catholic doctrine, Diego.”

“So you’re saying that…that sinning is part of God’s plan?”

The priest snapped his fingers. “Yes! Yes precisely.” He patted his knee and his hand lingered just a second too long. “We are all sinners, Diego. We all aspire to grace, to redemption of the soul. But, ultimately, we are creatures of flesh.”

Diego was starting to feel frustrated. “This is all very interesting, father, but how does it help me? I want…I want to stop feeling this way. I want to stop thinking these thoughts.” He put his hands to his head. “It’s starting to drive me crazy! I can’t stop. It’s like I’m addicted. I just want to be…normal.” He trailed off weakly and his shoulders slumped. He looked around at the room again. He didn’t know what he’d been expecting from this meeting, but certainly not a conversation about theology.

“Listen, Diego,” the priest said in a soft voice, “there isn’t a way you can just pray away these feelings. They’re a burden that you have to bear, like Christ carrying the cross to Golgotha.”

“But…why me? Why did I have to have all this in my head?”

“You think others have easier burdens? Think of your mother, worrying about you tonight. Think of your father. You think he doesn’t suspect? You think he doesn’t worry about never having any grandchildren?”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better…”

“Those were just examples. They have other worries. Other sins. And, Diego, my friend, you are not alone in this.” The priest’s hand rested on his knee again.

He shifted uncomfortably. “What do I do?” he asked.

“You must have courage. Courage to aspire to grace. Courage to bear your sin, Diego. For bear it you must. But it needn’t be an end to you. It needn’t rule your life. We must do good works despite our moral failings, do you see?”

“But…these feelings…these thoughts…”

“There are ways to deal with them.”

“Like, psychological tricks?” He was hopeful. “Things to distract me?”

“No, Diego. No, that will only make your desire burn stronger. No, you must seek an outlet for your lusts of the flesh.”

“You mean…give into it? But, no, that’s not…”

“Diego,” the priest said earnestly, “it is not about giving in. It is about allowing yourself to embrace your martyrdom. That is what you are, do you see that? What we are.” He began to move his hand along his leg, very slowly and gently.

“I don’t think…”

“I am a priest, Diego,” he said, and his breath was coming fast, “I can absolve any sin you may commit. I can bear the burden of your guilt, at least for now.”

“I’m not…”

“How old are you, Diego?”

He wet his lips. “Fifteen.”

The priest closed his eyes. “Ah. A formative age.” He smiled slightly. “These thoughts of yours,” he continued, “tell me about them. Tell me what you imagine.”

“I…uh…”

“Remember, you should always tell the truth to your padre.”

“You’re not my padre.”

“Let’s not quibble, Diego,” the priest said as his eyes snapped open. “Tell me what you want me to do to you. Tell me how you wish to be martyred.”

“I want…I want…” He didn’t want, not really. He’d never have looked twice at this man in the street. But, here and now, with him in front of him, so obviously consumed by desire, it was hard not to give into it. He threw himself desperately towards the priest, kissing him fiercely. Then he felt strong hands on his shoulders, pushing him down onto his knees.

Padre Miguel held his young charge tightly, guiding his hands as they worked his belt, and then his mouth. He smiled, very slightly, and thought of the martyrs in Christ.

*

Josh followed Carter out of the office. She could feel his grin and, as she turned and sat down at her desk, her suspicion was confirmed. He hovered and she looked to her partner and held out a hand. “Detective Ray Jones, meet Josh Franklin. He’s the guy in charge of this documentary.”

Jones looked from her to Josh and back again. He obviously saw he was missing something. “Documentary, huh? Where’s your camera?”

“It’s not actually that kind of documentary,” Josh said. “Detective Carter here obviously thinks this is some kind of…cable cop show. Like reality TV. But she’s mistaken. We’re not going to be following you around with a camera. I’m actually just here today to do some research. This is going to be a serious piece of work.”

Carter raised her eyebrows at him. “So you’re a real film maker then?”

“Don’t I look like one?”

“You look exactly like one,” Jones said. “Where the fuck is my coffee, Hannah?”

“You get his coffee for him?” Josh asked.

“No, I don’t. But I spilt his last cup, if you remember.”

Jones narrowed his eyes. “Do you two know each other or something?”

“We’ve met.”

“Well ain’t that sweet. You know what else is sweet? My coffee.”

“I don’t give a fuck about your coffee, Ray,” Carter said. She swivelled back to Josh. “So if you’re not going to be filming us, what are you going to be doing?”

“Research, like I said. Finding out how things work around here. Shadowing some of you, seeing you crack cases, catch bad guys, all that cool cop show stuff.”

“There’s nothing cool about it,” Carter told him, “this is Homicide. Just this morning we pulled a mutilated corpse out of a lake. No offence, but I don’t think this is going to be as much fun as you think it is, Mr Franklin.”

“I’m tougher than I look.”

“That wouldn’t be too hard,” Jones said. Carter shot him a grin.

Josh had a crooked little half smile on his face. Carter decided he was better looking than she’d thought this morning, but there was something a little bit off about him. She couldn’t exactly put her finger on it, but she supposed it was probably something to do with the fact that he hadn’t let on who he was in the bagel place. He obviously knew her, and knew he’d be seeing her later, but he’d kept it to himself. What was his game? “Listen,” he said, “you’re working on a case right now?”

“The one from this morning, yeah. We’re waiting for forensics to pitch up and…” As if on cue, her phone started to buzz. “Well, what do you know?” She touched the screen and scanned the text quickly. “We’re up, Ray.”

“Good. I can pick up some food on the way.”

“Do you always eat before viewing a corpse?” Josh asked him.

“Who the fuck is this guy anyway, Hannah?”

“I told you: he’s the documentary dipshit.”

“I’m gonna tag along, if that’s okay, detectives,” Josh said, swinging on his satchel and rushing to catch up with them as they headed for the door.

“Have you been checked out?”

“Huh?”

“Cleared to accompany us, you know. I don’t wanna find out your some asshole internet guy who’s gonna reveal a load of classified information.”

“Everything’s totally above board, detective.”

“Right.” They all stepped into the elevator. “You ever seen a dead body before?”

“Um…”

“This should be fun,” Jones said.

Back in Seccombe Lake Park, now with the sky starting to cloud over a little, there was a lot more activity than before. Everything was still cordoned off, but now it was clear there was a homicide there were a lot more patrolmen standing around, keeping crowds of onlookers at bay. Carter flicked her shades on again and sighed. “Is it just me, or did this job used to be easier?” She pointed at a couple of girls filming on their phones. “Look at that shit.”

“Who cares?” Jones took a slurp of the coffee he’d insisted they stop for and leaned on the side of the car. “We’re investigating a crime. The hell do they want the police force to do? I ain’t got nothin’ to hide.”

“Well I do.”

“Huh?”

“Didn’t you tell him about your fight?” Josh asked. He was standing looking towards the tent forensics had erected around the crime scene.

Jones laughed. “Fight? You didn’t say it was a fight…”

“It wasn’t.” She strode off into the park ahead of them. Phone camera lenses followed her, but she didn’t have time to worry about any of that right now. She ducked under the police tape again and then stepped into the tent where the forensics team were poring over the body she’d seen earlier. She looked down at it, considering it as dispassionately as possible. She had a moment to compose her thoughts, without Jones spraying food in her ear, or Josh distracting her with his bullshit. She looked back down at the victim’s face. Calm, peaceful, almost like he had accepted his fate. Apart from the bruising and the obvious injuries she’d seen earlier, there was no sign of any struggle. It could almost be suicide. Like he’d waded into the lake and surrendered himself to his fate.

Mortimer, one of the lab geeks, stood up and gave her a curt nod. He was a wide-shouldered, bullish man with a thick neck and a lot of tattoos. He didn’t look anything like you’d expect someone in his profession to look. “Detective,” he greeted her, “you want the low down on this guy?”

Jones lumbered into the tent finally, followed by Josh. The civilian took one glance at the corpse and visibly paled. He clutched the strap of his satchel a little more tightly. “Oof…couldn’t you…cover him up or something?”

Carter had barely noticed he was naked. She’d seen human bodies in every state imaginable. She wasn’t squeamish any more. “You were saying, Mort?”

“Right. He died before he got in the water.”

“So not drowning?”

“Nope. I figure they just dumped him here. Shitty place to dispose of a body if you ask me.”

Carter was inclined to agree. This was a public park in the middle of a city. The lake was shallow and not even that big. “On the other hand,” she said, “I guess it does help dispose of any DNA evidence. Did you find anything…you know…”

“No.”

She was surprised. “You’re sure?”

Mortimer grimaced. “The injuries were inflicted after he died.”

Jones made a disgusted noise. “Jesus…”

Carter glanced at Josh. He still looked sick. “You want to step outside, maybe?” she asked him in a low voice.

“No…no it’s fine. I’m good.”

“All right then.”

“So how did he die?” Jones asked. He circled the corpse and another forensics guy whose name she didn’t know moved aside for him. He was still sipping his coffee. His ability to eat and drink in situations like this never ceased to amaze her. She’d figured out a long time ago that it was his way of coping with the job. Eating was a comfort thing for the overweight detective, and even hardened homicide cops needed a little comfort in their lives now and then. Carter wondered whether she should take up smoking or something.

“The injuries to his torso,” Mortimer said. He’d crouched back down and was pointing with one gloved hand to the nasty looking bruises on the chest. “Someone beat him up pretty badly. There’s internal injuries. Look.” He pulled back the corpse’s lips, showing teeth stained with dark blood. “I need to run some tests, but I think that’s his own blood.”

“He coulda bit this asshole’s dick off,” Jones suggested.

Mortimer snorted a laugh. Humour was another way of dealing with this. And focusing on the perp. “Do we know who he is yet? Anyone matching this description reported missing?”

“You’re asking the wrong man,” Mortimer shrugged.

“Right.” She scratched at her head where a strand of hair had come lose and sighed. “So…someone beats this guy to death, then…does whatever they do to the body…then just dumps him in this lake.”

“Gotta be some witnesses,” Jones said. “When did this happen?”

“No more than eight hours ago,” Mortimer answered, “So just after midnight I guess.”

“IDing him is our priority right now,” Carter said. “You sure there’s no semen or anything, Mort?”

“First thing I checked. Nothing.”

“Guess we were wrong,” Jones said.

Josh looked at them. “About what?”

She beckoned him out of the tent and Jones lumbered after them. “We figured he was cruising, you know?”

“Cruising…? Oh…” He glanced at Jones. “People still do that?”

“Why you askin’ me, kid?”

“You see it from time to time,” Carter explained, “particularly in Hispanic communities. There’s still a lot of prejudice.”

“Right, right,” Josh nodded.

“Kid like this goes out at night, looking to hook up. It’s not about thrills – it’s just he has no other outlet. Catholic family or whatever. It’s messed up, but it happens. He meets some guy he doesn’t even know. No protection, no names. If he’s lucky, he walks away with nothing worse than a stinging sensation when he pees. But sometimes…”

“Things get outta hand,” Jones finished.

“You’ve seen this before then?” Josh asked them.

She shrugged. “Not personally. I hear the LAPD find some poor sap like this from time to time. It’s not hard to figure out.”

“But this time…”

“It’s different,” she said, “but someone sure made it look like it was pretty straightforward.”

“Interesting,” Josh said. “And…uh…what do you think happened?”

“We don’t think shit,” Jones told him, “not until we have some more information.”

“Let’s figure out who he was,” Carter said as they made their way back to the car, “then start interviewing witnesses. No way there was nobody around here at midnight last night.”

Josh was still asking questions. Now they were away from the body, he’d started to perk up again. “So who do you think might have done this?”

“How the fuck should we know?” Jones clambered into the passenger side. The car sank noticeably on its suspension as he deposited his bulk.

“You must have some idea of…”

“Josh,” Carter said shortly, “there are over two-hundred-thousand people in this city. Do you think we have some sort of database of murderers that we check up on in these situations?” She climbed into the car, and Josh followed suit.

“Not a database exactly, but…”

“Most killers don’t make a habit of it,” she explained, “and most of them get caught. This isn’t some detective novel. Chances are it was someone he knew. It sure as hell isn’t likely to be anyone known to us.”

“So how are you gonna find this guy?”

“If we knew that already, we wouldn’t have much of a job to do, would we?” She turned the ignition, if only to drown his questions out with the engine noise, and they headed back to the station.

*

“Eduardo Garcia.” Sergeant Beauchamp tossed a mugshot down onto her desk and Carter peered at it with interest. A young latino man stared back at her impassively. “Look familiar?”

Jones scooted his chair around and craned his neck. “That’s him.”

Carter sighed. “Sure looks like it. What’s his story?”

“Local kid,” Beauchamp said, leaning on the partition wall. “From Southside. Been in trouble a few times – nothing serious, just some joyriding and a little shoplifting.”

Carter tapped the photo. “Hence the record.”

“Missing since last night.”

“Have the family been informed?”

“Patrol’s headed down to their place right now.”

It went without saying that he probably lived with his parents. He was in his early twenties. Carter flicked through the other details with the mugshot. It was a pretty familiar story. Young man from a decent enough family, a few scrapes with the law, just youthful mischief really. Acting out. But fundamentally probably a good kid. And maybe one with a secret. Except that that didn’t quite add up, based on what Mortimer had said. “We should get down there,” she said, “ask some questions. See if he’d fallen in with a bad crowd or anything.”

“Beat cops can handle it, Hannah,” Jones said.

“Shit, why is everyone trying to protect me right now? This is my case, isn’t it?”

Beauchamp exchanged a glance with Jones. “I hear this guy was pretty roughed up.”

“He was dead,” she snapped, “so yeah. Pretty roughed up I’d say.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I know. But, contrary to popular belief, I’m not some fucking PTSD victim, all right? We’ve all been through some shit since we started this job. It goes with the territory.”

“All right.” The sergeant held up his hands. “I’m just looking out for you.”

She rubbed her temple. “I know. Sorry. It’s fine. It really is. I’m going to the bathroom, then we’ll head down to Southside. We need to get a statement from his folks.”

On her way back, she bumped into Josh again. Evidently he’d been loitering around the station for a while since they got back. “Hey, you okay?”

“Why does everyone keep asking me that? Yeah, I’m fine. We ID’d that kid.”

He winced. “So what now?”

“Gotta go meet the parents.”

“Wow. That’s gonna be…heavy…”

“Heavy?” She raised an eyebrow.

“Sorry, couldn’t think of a better word. You’d never know I was a writer, huh?”

“I thought you were a director.”

“Uh…yeah…well, I’m kinda both.”

“Talented guy.”

“We all have our callings.”

“I guess so.” She started walking back to her desk.

“Hey,” Josh said, jogging to catch up with her, “can I come when you…”

“No.”

“It’d be really useful for…”

“No,” she said more firmly, “this isn’t something you can use for your documentary. These people are going to be grieving. And we have to explain to them what happened to their son and reassure them we’re doing everything we can to find whoever’s responsible. This is a delicate situation.”

“Okay. I understand.”

“Good.” She stopped and turned to him. “Look, it’s not personal, all right?”

“What?”

“You know.” She waved a hand. “Calling you a disphit. Not buying into this documentary stuff. Colburn thinks it’s good PR. Me, I think we have a job to do.”

“I didn’t think it was personal, detective.”

“Well good.”

“I don’t want to get in your way. I’m just…interested.”

“In Homicide?”

“Sure. And the people here. How they deal with this. I’m sort of an amateur psychologist too.”

She stepped back and folded her arms, giving him a look of mock scepticism. “Just how many strings do you have to your bow, Mr Franklin?”

He smiled bashfully and scratched at his beard. “Can I confess something?”

“Sure…” she replied carefully.

“I was kind of hoping to get to know you. When I started this project, I mean.”

She didn’t quite know how to take that. “Excuse me?”

“I knew about the Hammersmith thing. Like I said, I’m fascinated by what goes on here, and by people who live in extreme circumstances. People who deal with terrible things every day. That’s what my documentary’s about, really. About people under pressure.”

“O…kay…”

“Does this make me sound like a creep?”

“Yeah, kinda,” she admitted.

He laughed. “Look, I’ll stay out of your way for a while. But I think we can help each other.”

“Help each other? How?”

“Well, obviously, you can help me with my work. But I think maybe I can help you to find some resolution to what you’re going through. Put a cap on it. Does that make sense? Sometimes, you know, articulating things can be a kind of therapy.” He moved his hands, as if that would help him explain what he was trying to say. “Like, writing things down. Talking them through. If you see your trauma on screen, it might help you come to terms with it.”

She glanced back to her desk where Jones and Beauchamp were talking. They looked at her, then returned to their conversation. Were her problems so obvious that this virtual stranger could see them with the naked eye? Oddly, she wasn’t so irked by Josh trying to look out for her as she was her colleagues. “I have to be going,” she said. “I’ll let you know when we’re back. I’ll help you with whatever you need.”

“Thanks, detective.” His grin was infectious.

“Call me Hannah.”

“Okay, Hannah. Hey, you know I never bought you that coffee.”

“Coffee?”

“This morning. I said I’d buy you one.”

“And I said it was fine.”

“Right. But maybe you’ve changed your mind now.”

She gave him a smile that she hoped looked mysterious. “Maybe…we’ll talk later.” She walked back to her desk, knowing he was watching her. It was a strange feeling.

Jones raised his eyebrows. “What’s up?”

She looked at him and Beauchamp. “Excuse me?”

The sergeant flashed her a big white smile. “You and the film nerd. What’s going on there?”

“Nothing. Just a conversation between two adults. Is that a problem?”

“You’re an adult,” Jones said, “I ain’t sure about him.”

“Fuck you. C’mon, we’ve got a job to do. A horrible, shitty job.”

“Right.”

*

Mrs Garcia was, predictably, a weepy mess. There was a squad car outside the house already and, indoors, two women cops doing a damn fine job of holding the fort. Mr Garcia was quiet. He was a stern, moustachioed man, sitting bolt upright on the couch as she and Jones sat opposite. “Obviously,” Carter said gently, “we’ll need one of you, or another relative, to come down to the station and identify Eduardo.”

“Eddie,” Mrs Garcia said. She was holding a photo frame in her hand. Carter couldn’t see the picture, but she could guess what it was. All around the cramped living room were family photos. A handful of smiling boys, one of whom she recognised as Eduardo – Eddie – albeit a few years younger, with softer features and looking a lot happier than he had in his mugshot. The rest of it was pretty standard. TV, couch, little kitchen and dining room through an archway. Crucifix hanging on the wall next to a portrait of Mary. Rosary beads hanging from one shelf. Family, Church. That was what these people’s lives revolved around. The story she’d sketched out to Josh back at the park – the story that forensics didn’t seem to think added up – was all too plausible. For now, that was the line of enquiry she planned to follow.

“Mrs Garcia,” she began, “I know this is really hard, but we really need to find out as much as we can about Eddie so that we can find whoever’s responsible and maybe stop the same thing happening to anybody else.”

“He was such a good boy,” the woman said, running her fingers over the picture she held. She had a head of greying curls and was wearing a nurse’s uniform. From the dark rings under her eyes, Carter figured she might have been coming off a night shift.

“He had some run ins with the police,” Jones said. Normally foul-mouthed and belligerent, when it came to situations like this he always had a surprisingly light touch. His tone was not accusatory; he barely sounded like he was contradicting her. It was just a nudge in the direction they needed her to go.

“He was so sensitive,” she said, “but he had some bad friends, you know?” She spoke with heavily-accented English. Carter thought they were probably second-generation, but this was probably a house in which Spanish was spoken most often.

“It happens,” Carter acknowledged. “Had he been with these bad friends recently, do you know?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head firmly. “No, not for a long time. He was alone, mostly.”

She exchanged a glance with Jones. It was adding up, frustratingly. “He was…he spent a lot of time by himself? Did he have many friends?”

“Some. Not many. He was such a sensitive boy.”

Her eyes flicked to Mr Garcia, just for a second. He was still sitting rigidly, hands resting on his knees, just staring into space. It was impossible to read him, but Carter thought she had an idea of what was going on here. “Did he have any…particular friends?”

“I suppose. Maybe.” Mrs Garcia didn’t seem to be following.

“When did you last see Eddie?” Jones asked.

“He went out last night.” She dabbed at her eyes with a sodden tissue. “After dinner.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

“To meet…to meet friends…”

Carter frowned. “But I thought you said he didn’t have many friends. Who was he meeting, Mrs Garcia?”

“I don’t know.”

“He didn’t say?”

“I don’t know,” she repeated.

Carter edged forward on her seat. They’d been given a couple of dining chairs to sit on. “Mrs Garcia, it’s very important that you tell us if you have any information about where Eddie might have gone. You may not realise this, but what happened to him was…was…” Mr Garcia stood up suddenly and wordlessly stalked from the room. Jones’s eyes followed him, but Carter looked away. Mrs Garcia didn’t react at all. “Mrs Garcia,” Carter said softly, “you know what’s going on here, don’t you?”

“My boy,” she said, through a fresh wave of tears.

“Your boy, yes. Mrs Garcia, we need to know if he was…involved…with anyone. With another boy, maybe.”

“He was a good boy,” she said insistently.

“No one’s disputing that,” Jones told her.

“A sensitive boy.” She put a lot of emphasis on that.

“We understand, Mrs Garcia,” Carter said with a tight smile, “and we want to stop this happening to any other sensitive boys if we can. Do you know who he went to see? Did he have a boyfriend, Mrs Garcia?”

“I don’t know about that,” she said, shaking her head rapidly, “I don’t know about these things.” But her eyes moved towards the kitchen, where her husband had retreated.

Carter found him standing by the sink with his head bowed. Outside, the sky had clouded over. There was a little patch of yard out there with children’s toys scattered around. Eddie was the eldest of his siblings, at least judging by the photos. This was a cramped, one-storey home. This family must have been pretty tight-knit to avoid driving each other crazy. She thought about how this situation would tear them apart. About the impact it would have on the extended family, the neighbours, the whole community. Gossip would follow them around, and with it loss of status. To men like Mr Garcia, that was important. It was about tradition. About being part of something larger than yourself. Carter had never really understood it all herself. Sometimes people thought she came from a place like this, not looking past the colour of her skin, but her upbringing was comfortable and middle-class. She struggled to relate to folks like this. “Mr Garcia?”

He rumbled something in Spanish without looking up.

“Do you know where Eddie went last night?”

Another low growl, but he finally raised his head and took a deep, ragged breath. He wouldn’t weep in front of them, maybe not even in front of his wife, but at some point, tears would come. He’d lost his son. That was universal. “There is someone who helps boys.” His accent was even thicker than his wife’s. She didn’t know what he did for a living.

She edged closer. “Boys like Eddie?”

“A priest, from Mexico.”

Carter nodded. She’d heard it before, this kind of thing. ‘Help’ indeed. Conservative communities like this one had no place for boys like Eddie, and there was no shortage of people who’d exploit that kind of prejudice. Groups who claimed to be able to ‘cure’ homosexuality, that preyed on the vulnerable and gave false hope of a resolution that wasn’t even necessary, not in this fucking century anyway. But, again, Carter had to remind herself that she was playing by different rules here. “A priest?” she pressed.

“I told him…” Mr Garcia whispered. “I told him to go to him. And now…” He bowed his head again. His shoulders started to shake. He put a hand to his face. “I…I told my boy to go to him…and now…and now he…he is dead…”

“It isn’t your fault,” Carter said. “But I have to know who you sent him to, Mr Garcia. If other boys are going to this priest for…for help…they might be in danger too.”

Mr Garcia raised his head again and stared out of the window. She could see the tears glistening in his eyes. “He is called Padre Miguel. He helps young men. That is what they say.”

“All right. And where can we find him? Is he with a particular diocese? Do you have an address?”

“It is not that simple…” Mr Garcia said.

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This entry was posted in Contemporary, Crime, Novella, Sexuality. Bookmark the permalink.

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