Chapter Seven, Part Two

Luckily I had done laundry recently. I pulled on some clean black denims and from the back of the closet, I pulled out a remnant of my previous life: a cashmere sweater in a shade of cobalt that always made me think of bluebirds and springtime. I brushed my teeth, swiped a comb through my hair, added a little powder, mascara and lipstick, and my fifteen minutes were up. I stepped inside my new shoes, threw on my coat and scarf, and headed out.

If I had run into Father Cash on the steps, I would've considered it only my just desserts for being so confident last night that I had no feelings for Cade. But the good priest didn't make an appearance, Cade was patiently reading a newspaper at the corner store, and just like that, we were off across town in his old pickup.

"How long have you been in Cold Haven?" he asked, by way of conversation, as we navigated what passed for evening rush hour.

"About a year," I said. "I plan to leave as soon as I can."

"It's not for everyone, that's for sure."

"Not for anyone, more like." I adjusted the heater vent nearest me so that it would warm my hands.

"You meet an interesting cross-section of people here, though. Seems like everybody is from someplace else."

"That's true," I agreed, but it's less like the American Dream than what the cat dragged in. Present company excluded, of course."

Cade grinned. "No need to reassure me on that point. There've been days I wondered if I was the only person in town who wasn't wanted for something back home."

"It's not as extreme as all that," I said, not liking the drift of the conversation. "I think a lot of people who come here are just disappointed with life."

"Well, this place sure won't cure that. Not unless you approach it with the right attitude, at any rate."

By now we were on the east side of town, which wasn't exactly richer than the west, but had a decidedly more genteel cast to it. Instead of somber gray concrete and weathered clapboards, the buildings were of red brick or tidy shingles. Shops and apartment buildings had clean windows and sometimes a bit of rock art or wooden sculpture for landscaping. Shady characters didn't lurk in doorways or on corners, and although drug and alcohol abuse were no less rampant here than in my own neighborhood, this was not a place where you advertised your vices.

Cade navigated a few narrow streets, then pulled up to the curb and killed the engine. "It's up the block," he said. "They're too small to have their own parking lot."

I shrugged. "I never mind a little bit of walking."

The bricks of the building housing Luigi's Pastaria were faded and buffeted by age, and on the inside, the dark hardwood floors had been rasped and polished, but still showed the faint marks of many decades of use. But the narrow dining room was redolent of the warm aroma of garlic and had been furnished for modest charm in unoriginal but tidy square tables covered with red-checked tablecloths. Candles in glass jars flickered at each table, and the framed posters on the walls depicted scenes of Rome and the greats of Italian opera. It was the type of place I would've rolled my eyes at in my previous life, but now I found the clich├ęd decor oddly comforting.

Since there was no hostess to seat us, we took a table underneath a photo of a bellowing Pavarotti and examined the menu cards tucked into a little wire holder. As Cade had cautioned, the offerings were limited, but it was all so much more than what I was in the habit of eating that my stomach growled at the prospect of even a single slice of garlic bread.

"I've been here a couple times for their lunch specials," Cade said. "The spaghetti, lasagna and ravioli are all pretty good."

What caught my eye was the chicken scaloppini, but it was one of the more expensive dishes, so that wouldn't do. Neither would the spaghetti, since ordering the cheapest item might imply that I doubted Cade's ability to pay. So when the waitress came by, I ordered ravioli and a Coke.

"You sure about that Coke?" Cade asked. He ordered a carafe of Chianti.

"I hope you're not trying to get me drunk," I teased after the waitress left.

He shook his head. "I just think dinner should include an adult beverage."

I had no argument with that. The wine arrived quickly, along with a basket of garlic bread and cups of minestrone soup, so that by the time our entrees were served, I was feeling warm and relaxed.

As promised, the food was quite good, or maybe it had simply been so long since I had eaten an average meal that almost anything would have tasted like gourmet cuisine. Regardless, I was thoroughly enjoying my dinner and the company when Cade brought me up short.

"Tell me about Father Cash."

I stared at him over a mouthful of garlic bread, and reached for my napkin so I could wipe my chin. "I told you pretty much all I know at the funeral, I think."

"I mean, how's he doing? Has he had any luck reaching Sella's mother?"

I shook my head and reached for my wine. "He says he's been trying, and that it's not like Lena to go incommunicado, but I have to wonder how hard he's really looking. I mean, I offered to go to the library and do an internet search, but he blew me off. If he was really serious..."

Cade nodded. "He'd try anything. I know I would, if it was my sister."

"He thinks there's some sort of conspiracy going on and that Sella's death wasn't an accident."

"Really?" he leaned back, startled. "It looked like an ordinary suicide to me, and I've seen a few."

I shrugged. "I've tried to reassure him, but I think it's his Catholic guilt getting in the way. Suicide is a sin, you know."

"So is fornication, but from what you've told me, I don't have the impression the good father is terribly worried about that one."

"Say enough Hail Marys, and I'm sure it will all get taken care of. But if you're dead, that option is off the table." I returned my attention to my ravioli.

"I guess I can see that." Cade frowned. "Didn't Catholics use to pass off suicide as mental illness, so they could say the person didn't die a sinner?"

"I tried suggesting that, but it didn't go over well. He's pretty married to the idea that it was foul play, and that Sella's mother was a victim of it, too."

"People don't get murdered for no reason." Cade pointed out. He ate the last bite of his lasagna and pushed the plate aside. "Were they involved in drugs or something?"

"Not that I know of."

"Domestic?"

I thought about Sella's cryptic diary entry. "That's always a possibility, but nothing I've seen so far has me convinced."

Cade leaned forward. "Sounds like you know more than what you're telling."

I finished my ravioli and reached for my glass of wine. I took a good long sip before answering. "Not really, and why are you so curious?"

He looked away. "It sucks to pull a dead girl out of the water. It's the sort of thing you want to attach a meaning to, even if there probably isn't one."

I nodded. Without intending to, he had described Father Cash's dilemma. "That's probably why it's easier for her uncle to call it murder than admit that she wanted to die, and nothing he could do made any difference."

"He thinks he failed as both a priest and as an uncle."

"Maybe in his own mind," I said. "But failing at playing Sherlock Holmes isn't going improve matters."

"Agreed." Cade signaled to the waitress. "Tirimisu and coffee?"

"Where would I put it?" I asked. "I'm so full I could burst."

Cade asked for the check and after he had given the waitress his credit card, he turned back to me. "What if he's on to something, though? Father Cash, I mean."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Are you serious? You said yourself that it looked like an ordinary suicide."

"Yes, but..." he shrugged, "What if it's not?"

"If it's not, then the cops need to handle it," I said.

"No point looking for trouble," he agreed, and I couldn't tell if he meant it or not. The waitress brought the credit card slip and although I tried not to look, I couldn't help noticing that he tipped generously.

"We all need to earn a living," he said, noticing where my gaze had drifted.

Indeed we did, and I cast a furtive glance at my watch. Although we had been out longer than I had planned, there was still plenty of time to hunt down Arlo or Crazy Eddie and see if I could make a buck or two.

"I assume you don't want me to take you home," Cade said as we left the restaurant. "The store, then?"

I had been wondering throughout the meal if he was going to try to leverage dinner into something more, even though nothing in what I had seen so far suggested he was that type. I was surprised to feel a little sad, though, when he obediently let me out in front of Lucky's without so much as an attempt at a kiss, and just a cheerful, "Thanks for the company."

"I enjoyed it," I said, and I meant it.

"We should do it again sometime."

"We will," I promised. "I'll call."

He smiled like he wasn't sure if he should believe me or not. "You have my number."

Chapter Seven, Part One

The next morning I woke up groggy and hung over after a late night at the pub wasting my meager earnings from a drug handoff. I had a stale, bitter taste in my mouth and no toothpaste, so after counting my spare change, I threw on some jeans and a sweater, and headed to the corner store. There were only two brands of toothpaste to choose from, and I was puzzling over the merits of gel versus tartar control, when I heard a familiar voice.

"Judith! How have you been?"

Didn't it just figure Cade would turn up here, of all places, when my hair was uncombed and my breath smelled like a sewer?  "Uh, hi. Doing great. Busy. Work, life..."

"Don't I know it?" He grinned like he hadn't even noticed that I hadn't been in touch. "I found a great spot for herring - one of my crew has a sixth sense for that sort of thing - but it's meant a lot of long hours bringing it in before anyone else finds it."

I didn't have much to say about this, since I knew nothing of fishing. "That's great, uh...congratulations." I grabbed a tube of toothpaste and glanced toward the counter. "It's been great running into you like this, but I need to go."

Instead of taking the hint, Cade followed me to the cashier. "Have you had dinner yet? I know it's kind of early, but there's a little Italian place just opened on the other side of town. Very small, informal, limited menu but what they've got is as good as anything I've had back home in Portland."

Dinner? I suppressed an urge to laugh. What would he think if I told him I had hadn't even had breakfast yet? He'd lump me in with every other loser in this town, no doubt. "It's a nice idea, but..."

"Just as friends. My treat."

I was sliding coins across the counter and the cashier met my eyes, then glanced away with a little twitch of his shoulders, as if to say I might as well. And who was I kidding? Unless some work came through quick, this was probably my best shot at a decent meal for today. "I should at least fix myself up a little."

"You look fine," he assured me. "It's really very casual."

"No," I insisted. "If you're going to treat me to dinner, the least I can do look like a girl worth being seen in public with. I'll have to meet you somewhere, though. It wouldn't be appropriate for you wait outside my apartment."

"You in the witness protection program or something?"

It was a smart-ass remark, but said with such gentle good humor that I smiled. "How about I meet you back here in fifteen minutes?"

Cade gave a little shrug. "Works for me. I still haven't gotten what I came for, anyway. But I have one condition. Give me your phone number this time, so I can text you if you take longer than expected."

"I'll let you know if I'm running late," I assured him, but I gave him my number anyway, and nervously watched as he added it to his contacts. I was committed now. "I'll see you in a few," I said, and darted out the door.

Chapter Six, Part Two


Like last time, Father Cash was hungry to talk about Sella afterward.

"I know you think I'm crazy, Judith, but there really is something going on. Something ominous."

"I can see why it might look that way," I mumbled.

"If Sella's death were the only part of it, I might agree with you, but—"

"I know, Lena is incommunicado, and that's out of character." I pulled myself out of his embrace. "You sure are good with the pillow talk these days."

Ignoring my words, he sat up and swung his feet out of bed. "There's something I think you need to see."

He padded into the other room and returned a few minutes later with a leather-bound book the color of dark cherries. A page had been bookmarked with a receipt and he handed it to me. "Read that, then tell me you don't think she was running from someone."

I took the diary and it found it smooth and surprisingly heavy for its size, with thick creamy pages. I opened it to the marked section, and after a brief glance at the receipt (a 16 oz. Coke and packet of peanuts) I read the entry. Sella's handwriting was tidy and stylish - almost a calligraphy. After reading the entry twice, I handed it back.

"She felt threatened. She was running from someone," Father Cash said, giving me a pointed look.

"You might call it that," I said cautiously. "But it's pretty vague."

"'I have to get away. I have no choice any more,'" he read. "What's so vague about that?"

I lay back among the covers and sighed. "Only that she was a teenage girl, and teenage girls see the drama in everything: a zit, a bad grade, not enough pepperoni on a pizza..."

"Judith..."

"I'm not saying it couldn't be something bigger than that. It's just that I was a teenage girl myself, not so long ago, and you're going to need more evidence than that one page to convince me." I frowned. "Is there more?"

Father Cash turned away. "I see we're not going to get very far with this."

While he returned the diary to wherever he had been stashing it, I sat up and started pulling on my clothes, wondering if he was pissed at me again. What a waste of time this afternoon had been.

When several minutes passed and Father Cash still had not returned, I wandered into the living room, where I found him wrapped in a faded bathrobe, watching the documentary again with the sound off. "I'm sorry," I told him.

He shrugged in answer.

"I really am concerned about Lena," I told him. "If you give me her full name and an address, I can go down to the library tomorrow and use their computers to do an internet search."

"No need."

I stood silent, pondering. "Well," I finally said, "If you find out anything more, anything that might bolster your theory, I really would be happy to help, it's just that in the absence of any other evidence—"

"I know. You've made yourself very clear."

"Fine," I said. "You know where to find me." I let myself out and trudged up the stairs. To hell with him. Maybe I would call that nice fisherman, after all. Or better yet, maybe I'd just call Arlo. Rent would be due soon and I could use a little work.

Chapter Six, Part One

Of course I didn't call him.

For the next few weeks I settled back into my usual routine of making drug deliveries and turning tricks, earning enough to keep the bills paid, plus a little left over for a new-to-me pair of shoes from the thrift store. Thinking I might raise some steady money, I applied for a waitress job at one of the chowder shops but never got a call back. I began feeding a stray cat in the hope that it might intimidate some of the rats that hung around the back stoop of our apartment building where the garbage was collected for weekly pickup. And in an attempt to brighten my dismal flat, I bought a nasturtium, guaranteed to grow, and put it on my living room windowsill.

Most importantly, though, I tried to reconcile with Father Cash.

It wasn't an easy decision. If life had taught me anything, it was to avoid lopsided relationships and not let anyone think I might need them more than they needed me. But Father Cash had been kind and probably would have been no less generous with food and quilts if I had never allowed him into my bed. And so I gathered a few coins and dollar bills, bought some peanut butter and Ritz crackers, and waited, reading by the window, until I saw him coming up the walk. When I knocked on his door a few minutes later, I hardly knew what to expect, but after what seemed a long time, he finally answered.

"Hello, Judith."

His posture was stiff and erect. His voice was gentle, but he didn't smile.

I held up the plastic grocery bag. "I know it's supposed to be a casserole, but I thought I'd spare you my attempts at cooking and bring you something edible."

"That's very thoughtful of you, but—"

"Just let me in, would you?"

He stepped out of the way, but he wasn't happy about it. I set my offerings on the scuffed and blemished coffee table and looked around. Nothing had changed much, except for a cardboard box in the corner that I assumed contained Sella's things. "How have you been?" I asked.

"About as well as can be expected."

"No luck reaching Lena?"

Father Cash shook his head.

"Surely she has friends or an employer who—"

"There's no need to pretend that you care, Judith."

I turned on him in exasperation. "I'm not pretending anything. Just because I don't want to follow you on a goose chase doesn't mean I'm not sad about what happened or concerned about you. You're my friend."

Our eyes locked and he looked away first. "I was just getting ready to watch a Ken Burns documentary. You're welcome to stay."

It wasn't what I had in mind, but since I didn't have a TV or laptop, a show of any kind was a treat. I settled in on the sofa and accepted a glass of greenish wine and a Ritz cracker. The documentary was, appropriately enough, about the Great Depression, and the black and white vistas of blowing dust put me in no fit frame of mind to deal with what Father Cash said when he finally spoke again.

"It was very inappropriate of you to flirt at my niece's funeral."

For a moment all I could do was stare.

"You were rather taken with that fisherman."

"He seemed like a nice guy." I reached for a cracker. "But if making polite conversation counts as flirting, then I guess I flirt with everyone."

"It's okay," he said. "You're young, far from home, and in a precarious position. Of course you want a relationship with someone close to you in age; a provider who can give you a little stability."

"I do want stability," I told him, offended now. "But I have no intention of latching on to a man to get it. I can straighten things out for myself."

"I see."

He turned back to the television, and so did I. A few minutes later, though, he hit the mute button. "You need to decide what you want, Judith. That young fisherman is the sort who wants a girl he can marry, and you—"

"I know what I am," I snapped. "And I have had no contact with him since the funeral. He gave me his number, but I didn't call it. He asked for mine, but I refused. I wouldn't even let him bring me home, so he doesn't know where I live. If you want to make some kind of grand romance out of that, go for it, but for now will you please drop it?" I reached for the remote and turned the sound back on.

For a long time, it was just him and me, and the soothing sounds of Ken Burns describing a long-ago catastrophe. Finally Father Cash said, "I'm sorry, dear. I didn't mean to offend."

"Yes, you did," I said. "You're jealous."

"Maybe so, but I obviously have no right to be."

I shrugged and reached for my wine glass.

"So since you aren't...involved with anyone, perhaps we can kiss and make up."

Why hadn't I seen this coming? I suppressed an inner sigh of annoyance. "There's nothing to make up, and you were never much into kissing, anyway."

"You're right. We can skip the kissing."

I took a big gulp of my sour wine and figured once a whore, always a whore. I stood up and let him lead me to his bedroom.

Chapter Five, Part Three


As we approached the iron gates of the cemetery, we filed in behind the other cars in a motley procession that wound its way through the plots. Since this was a relatively new cemetery, there were few markers, making Sella's gravesite both a relief from the bare, flat land, and a monstrous thing at the same time with its yawning pit torn from the tundra. A couple of people were removing the flowers that had been at the church from one of the cars and placing them around the head of the grave, offering the only spot of color for miles around.

I stepped out of the truck and immediately regretted having gone to so much trouble to borrow a dress. The cold wind whipped my skirt and chilled my legs, and the only things that kept me from jumping back in the cab were Cade's encouraging smile and the sense that I needed to make a good showing in front of Father Cash. Gritting my teeth and huddling in my coat, I tried to find a place among the small knot of mourners where I would be blocked from the worst of the wind.

Thankfully the priest didn't seem any more keen on the weather than I was, and hurried through the little ceremony, in spite of the annoyance in Father Cash's eyes. Well, what of it? We were all stomping our feet and shivering, and nothing said on earth was going to help Sella now.

Father Martinez asked if anyone wanted to say any words. Of course Father Cash did, and strode to the head of the grave. "Friends," he said, "Thank you for being here today." He went on to tell us a little of Sella's history. "When she called me from the bus station just a few short weeks ago, I went to meet her and found a girl much changed. She was nurturing a great hurt and a great fear, but deep inside, I know she was still the same sweet child. I believe that what happened on the waterfront was more than what it appeared, and although God longs to have each and every one of us by his side, this is not how He would have had it."

A few people in the crowd raised their eyebrows and Father Martinez gave him a warning look.

"Evil lurks in this world, and Satan tries to leave his mark." He caught Father Martinez's alarmed expression and gave a tight smile. "But we take comfort in knowing that evil cannot win, and even now Sella has her victory in the arms of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."

"Amen," Father Martinez said firmly. "Would anyone else like to speak a few words?"

I ducked my head, hoping frantically that Father Cash wouldn't expect me to say anything. I had hardly known the girl, and my last attempt at public speaking had been in eighth grade.

To my surprise, Cade spoke up beside me. "If I may, Father."

The crowd parted to let him approach the coffin, and Father Cash stepped aside with chilly good manners. Cade hardly seemed to notice, and turned to face the group.

"I'm just a fisherman, and I don't always have the right words for things," he said, "but when I found Sella in the water, I felt like I was finding my own child. She was a beautiful young lady, full of potential for happiness and good works, and it's a sad day when someone like her is lost to us. The world can be a pretty mean place, and we need good, kind, wise people to balance things out. Even though I never knew her alive, I feel like she would have been one to tip the scales of good in our favor. Her departure is a loss to us, and a gain to Heaven."

There were nods of approval and a few amens as Cade returned to his spot by my side and Father Martinez asked if anyone else wished to speak. Getting no takers, he wrapped things up as quickly as he could, much to Father Cash's annoyance. After we had all filed past the lowered coffin for the last time, Father Cash took him aside with a frown, and I turned expectant eyes on Cade.

"I want to talk to him a minute," he said, gazing in Father Cash's direction.

Just my luck. A conversation with him right now could easily turn into a grilling as to why I hadn't offered to share a reminisce about Sella. "Could I go sit in your truck, then? I'm freezing."

Cade led me back to the truck and opened the door, still casting glances toward the two priests, who were deeply absorbed in what appeared to be a tense conversation.

"It may be awhile," I warned him.

"Yeah, he's pissed about something." With a sigh, Cade went to the other side of the truck and got in.

"It's just not how he would've done it," I said. Cade cranked the engine and turned on the heater. I stretched my hands toward the blast of warm air.

"How come he didn't perform the ceremony? Do Catholics have rules about what churches a priest can use?"

"Not that I know of. It's just that Father Cash is defrocked."

"Oh." Cade put the truck in gear and we backed out onto the cemetery road. "Do you know why?"

I tried to suppress a smile. "He likes women a little too much."

Cade gave a knowing nod. "That's got to be tough. He should've gone protestant. They would've let him marry."

"I don't get the impression one woman would've been enough."

"Old-school Mormon, maybe?"

In spite of myself, I smiled, imagining Father Cash trying to manage a bevy of wives. "I guess he missed his true calling."

"A lot of us do."

We both lapsed into silence and it was only as the gray clapboards of town came into view that Cade remembered to ask where he was taking me.

"You can drop me back at the church."

"I don't mind taking you home."

I hadn't been looking forward to walking in the cold in Donna's thin dress, but that didn't mean I wanted Cade seeing the run-down tenement where I lived, either. "Thanks, but the church is fine. Really."

"Suit yourself."  He drove to the church in such a state of silence that I wondered if he was angry at me. But when he pulled up to the church door, he merely turned to me with concern in his eyes. "You sure you don't want a ride home? I really don't mind. I don't have anything else to do today."

For a moment, I reconsidered. Surely he didn't think I was well-off, so why should I be embarrassed at letting him see my poverty? Nevertheless, I shook my head. "I'm going to pray a little while."

Cade grinned, but didn't challenge my lie. Instead, he fumbled among some stray items in a cupholder and scribbled on a gas receipt. "Here."

I took the slip of paper. It was his phone number.

"Call me sometime. I'll buy you a cup of coffee." Then, misreading my hesitation, he added, "Just as a friend. I haven't met very many people here who I'd like to know better."

"Me, either."

"Can I get your number, too?"

"No." I reached for the door handle. "It's nothing personal, I swear. And I'll call you. I promise."

I jumped out of the truck and darted into the church, my heart pounding. Wasn't it just my luck that in this, of all places, I'd meet a nice guy. And wasn't it my rotten luck as well that I wasn't the type of girl he should be getting mixed up with.