Chapter 6

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CHAPTER 6

Harry pulls up outside the house. Just a house. Not his home. He sees Mary standing by the door wiping her hands on her apron, then the image is quickly gone from his mind. He wishes he could just see her, see her right there. Hands on the wheel he leans his head down on it and makes a noise. The noise of a true desperation.

“Come on!” he says to his failing self. Denzel is two minutes behind, cranking his brake on. Harry heads for the door, keys in the lock, he turns, not quite facing Denzel. Not quite eye to eye. “You head home. I’m gonna crash for a couple of hours. I’m beat. You are too; you look like shit, man. Get some sleep.”

Denzel just emerging from the car calls back with the door open. He doesn’t catch Harry’s expression but he’s glad he’s seeing reason. They won’t be any fucking good if they stay awake much longer. The engine growls into action and he turns his head once more to see Harry going inside. George is on his porch next door.

Harry is hardly inside when George knocks. Good wishes and so on. A plate of stew from Annie. Harry takes the opportunity. One more time George, what happened? After a while George goes home, head down.

“The perfect couple,” thinks George. He can’t take it in. He’s been out in his car too driving round the outskirts of the town, seeing if he can see her. Met a few other folks, doing the same.

“Harry sure looks dark,” he thinks. He goes to tell Annie thanks for the stew. He’s told Annie to stay home today. He’s got the creeps.

Harry watches out the window, George has gone. He gets more cigarettes from the drawer in the kitchen. Stuffs three packs of Lucky Strike in his pockets. Gets the kettle on and picks up the fag butt off the floor from yesterday. Was it yesterday? He doesn’t know. Today station, last night woods, yeah it was yesterday. Still in the first forty-eight hours, he thinks. The first forty-eight hours.

Putting some coal in the stove he looks at the fire in the parlor, dead. Not like the parlor to be cold. A cold and damp feeling. Pulling back the drapes, condensation is dripping down the little panes. He wipes one over with his sleeve.

Grabbing a piece of cold chicken from the larder he eats it as he gets to the top of the stairs.

Spare room, nothing odd. Mary’s pile of laundry waiting by the ironing board and her little radio on the bedside. She loves the tunes; she loves her radio. He turns it on, makes him think of her. Makes it seem like she’s there. It fills the empty space. Sometimes they dance quietly, he holds her and they dance in there with her laundry. He spits some meat gristle straight onto the floor, looks at the ugly, greasy bone.

He checks the bathroom out. Something was different.

The little bathroom was different. Rosy drapes were shut; he threw them open to check out the windowsill. Nothing different, a little chrysanthemum, a golden, autumn symbol of the season nestled in its green pot. Mary nursed it. Still there, nothing else. Window tight shut. The little basket of lipsticks was on the high shelf by the pretty mirror. He’d shave at that mirror and bang out the bristles three times each sweep.

“Harry, must you leave the basin looking like it’s got iron filings all round it? Could you just wash it round a bit, baby?” she’d say. And he always agreed. He was always at a run to get back to Denzel, to somewhere, to be at the station. He was always at work. Could she have left him; was she fed up being a cops’ wife?

Odd. Now that was odd. She always lifted the little basket of lipsticks down. She would choose her favorite for her outfit and smooth it on her little, perfect mouth, top and bottom with “American Beauty,” then she’d dab on a bit of Vaseline for shine. It was a process, he used to watch her concentration, a little bit of tissue to kiss the extra off. A piece of tissue was in the little basket; her mouth was on it. The imprint of her kiss. He zoned out for a minute as her mouth came to the front of his mind. Then he saw it. He saw what was wrong.

Her hat pin, the one with the little bead and a gem at the end, a blue bead, on the little shelf under the mirror. She hadn’t put her hat on, but it was windy. She’d had her hair done the other day; she wasn’t gonna waste that shampoo and set. She’d wear her hat. Always with the pin in the bad weather. She’d gone out sudden like without her hat. She hadn’t come upstairs to fix her lipstick and put her hat straight.

Peri Como crooned out of the radio … “Till the end of time, long as stars are in the blue, long as there’s a spring, a bird to sing, I'll go on loving you.”

Harry didn’t notice it. On the small landing were the wooden hooks, spare coats on the left and her hats. A row of her hats, small hats. All types for all weathers. She kept them nice. There was no empty peg.

Unknown: errands, stranger, rushed out, coat and boots, no hat, what time? He went from the landing to the bedroom.

Now he meant it. Started at the back door, locked. He looked on the back of the door pulling everything off, speeding up, he flew up through that house like a man possessed. Every drawer, cupboard, shelf and table was upturned. He trashed the house swearing all the time, louder and louder, rampaging.

Then down he fell against the bedroom wall. Spent. Grunting. His mouth formed a terrible howl.

Just pain. Only pain.

Harry catches himself crawling around like a dog. Scratching and pawing at things. There’s no sense to any of it. Rabid scratching.

He sees himself as if from above. He looks down on his sorry state. He sees himself leaning against the bedroom wall. Mary’s house no more. No more Mary. Palms on the floor, panting, panting again. Breathing hard like a dog. The thin veil between man and beast evaporated. He sees himself clear as day, dog-like.

Shuddering, juddering back into his body, he comes round. Wiping the spit off from round his mouth with the back of his grubby hand. He breathes in, sniffing deeply with the snot running from his nose. Leaning hard against the wall, rubbing his back roughly against it he sniffs again.

On Mary’s side of the bed he can smell her scent. “Confetti.” She’s nearly run out. He pulls her bedside drawer down and puts it on his knee. Her little bottle of Confetti, her handkerchiefs, a notebook with flowers on, her address book. He opens it; her handwriting pulls at his heart. Her writing, it’s like hearing her voice. He shuts his eyes and a lonely tear makes its way down his cheek. His eyes shut; he can just about imagine her voice. Soothing, pretty, optimistic, full of love. He shuts his eyes and sees her moving about by the window and he imagines her soft voice.

He imagines her saying his name. He holds his head in his hands and weeps. He looks at how he’s fucked the room up. He holds her Bible with the tiny writing, from her mom. “To my darling Mary, love, as always, Mom,” it says inside. He puts it in his breast pocket. A few bits of jewelry and her other cross. She always wears her grandma’s cross. He better give it to her when he sees her.

Then he sees something … under Mary’s side of the bed.

Harry claws the thing from under the bed. Old book, leather strap tied round. Smells of incense. Chills, sudden pain in his damned eye. This is something. Got diagrams, writing and symbols. Suddenly shuts the book, scared, throws it down. Ars Goetia.

Suddenly the radio in the spare room starts booming with some big band shit. Discordant with his mood. He ignores it as he floats away looking at the photo in the frame. It’s Mary and him on their honeymoon; they got a close-up in one of those Boulevard shops in their best clothes. She looked great. He thinks he looks like shit, but man was he smiling. Holding his face real close and smiling broadly. He’d whispered in her ear about the night before and she had the biggest smile in that picture! He smashed it and ripped the picture out.

Harry gets a pain in his arm. He flexes his hand, which is numb. He looks at it, like it’s someone else’s hand. Just bones, hair and skin.

At the back of the larder he opens his steel gun cupboard. He’s more icy now; he has a plan. He fills his pockets with ammunition.

Scared to touch it again he picks up the heavy black phone.

“Pick up you, son of a bitch, Denzel!”

Denzel’s gravelly voice is on the other end.

“Speak to me.”

“It’s that church by the forest, in the east. Get your gear ready.” Denzel gets in the car and Harry’s boots pressed down on the gas. Swerving past every car on the road, he drove right in the middle, lights blazing. Denzel couldn’t make out why they were heading to the church yet. “Mary goes there now and then; she reads her Bible. George says Mary asked Annie if she wanted to go. That church out east by the forest. Annie reckons it’s rough, you know, whores and addicts; she won’t go, but Mary would just see a chance to help folks.”

“You got a photo, Harry?” Harry grunts. Denzel is shaky, tapping on his juddering knee.

“Maybe she went with someone after church and got stuck somewhere. It was a wild night; maybe a phone line was down. They may not have a damned phone line for Christ’s sake. They could be trying to walk back from a farmstead or something.”

He wanted to believe this. It was just words. Priests, they used a lot of words. The word of God. Now that was a thing. All over this big old world everyone had their god; all seemed pretty much the same to Harry.

“If you sit there long enough in church, do you reckon you get to heaven?”

“Some people will believe in anything.”

“Has she said anything to you lately? About God and stuff?”

“Nope.”

“Anyways, Harry, she’d have talked to you about it; she tells you everything, right?”

Harry cast a sharp glance over to Denzel who was looking down, messing about with his gun.

“Yes, Denzel. She tells me everything. It’s a fucking lead isn’t it? Two leads,” he carries on hoping, narrowly missing a car, veering off the road as the church appears in the headlights. “This fuck of a place, and George’s stranger,” he adds. “And what’s stranger than this bitchin’ church? Who has mass at this time on a weekday?” Harry continues.

Slamming the car doors they move toward the church, trying hard to hide their anger. They recognize a few folk from the station, down and outs and some others. Not the sort of church to wear your best hat and gloves.

The building’s low, wooden, small bell tower. Dirty white with green lichen on. The gravel drive is unmade, rough and hasn’t been fixed up for years. It’s a dirty shithole of a church. A light pours out of the door as people exit. Not that many there. A pool of light round the side signifies a side door, smaller. Looks like the folks come in shared motors or it’s a grim walk back to town; not that far, but grim. No streetlights and ditches at the roadside. Folk could go missing; no one would care much if half of this bunch went missing. The lonely deadbeats, maybe they need a god. They got nothing else.

No one fits George’s description.

The reverend is shaking hands as people leave. That grasping, two-handed shake, the look you in the eye, “I care about you” shake. He’s kind of grey-looking. Mr. Ordinary, grey face with watery eyes that slope down at the sides. Mouse-colored hair, or rat, Harry wasn’t sure. He had the look of a stoat about him. His hands were long. Long hands wrapped around the men and women as they left. Man, did he have deep furrows, the burdens of sin; his face was drooping and he didn’t shave well in the creases. His neck was all stringy-like. Long navy coat over his black robes. Robes getting muddy down to the ground. Not very smart for a priest, but who the fuck cares out here? Better than no one, Harry guessed. He probably didn’t have much to smile about helping this lot.

The side door bangs and the light disappears. A tart with laddered stockings looks round. She sort of trips and Denzel holds her up.

“Thank you, sir.” She looks at him. A sort of look-you-over gaze. Smooths her hair gaze. Just gently scratches her knee raising her shirt just enough. Straightens up. Potential john.

“That’s OK, ma’am.” His face saying no.

He glances at Harry. The woman had wild eyes, gleaming and full of something he didn’t recognize. Rapture? She was alight with something. They both saw it but didn’t need to say anything, not the way they worked; the second hand was still racing round the clock.

Harry’s feet shift around on the gravel as they approach the priest. Denzel quickly touches his arm to suggest that he’ll do the talking; Harry looks too wild.

“Evening, Reverend.” 

“How can I help you gentlemen?” he says, sort of intentionally slow. He goes to shake hands but Denzel’s not interested.

They move aside as an old couple comes out. Again they have that queer look on their face, like happy; he must tell a good sermon Denzel reckons.

The priest’s smiling now, a real nice smile. He’s woken up a bit. Made his skin creep back up his wrinkled grey face.

Harry smells incense coming out of the church. He thinks back to his mom. He breathes in the incense and can see himself as a boy sliding along the varnished pews. That was a nice church that was. Pretty flowers every Sunday, his ma did the flowers with the other women, smart women. The whole place smelled of the vestry, full of incense, flowers, moldering old stems from the week before. It always scared him a bit. He used to have fun running round with the other kids, chasing around the church when you had to be all stiff and smart on a Sunday. They’d chase each other pretending not to be running and kneeling down halfway when they passed the altar in case they offended God. God expected you to bow when you passed the altar.

God wasn’t ever his thing. It sort of embarrassed him. It was full of nice ladies and sometimes their husbands and the drunks at the back and a lot of singing. Dipping your finger in the holy water and kissing the feet of the cross on Ash Wednesday.

Messed with his head and overwhelmed him. He was a real sensitive boy.

They stopped going after his confirmation. He had to pick a saint’s name; Michael, he picked. He didn’t want another name and he had to go for private chats with Father Lucciano who kept banging on about Harry’s lovely blue trousers and how nice they fit and all, and he’d get Harry to stand on a chair in front of him so he could look at those blue trousers. “My sky blue boy,” he used to call Harry. Harry didn’t like taking communion from him; it made him feel hot and embarrassed.

That’s near the time Harry’s mom got smashed up by a drunk driver and he didn’t believe in God anymore. He’d put it all aside for their wedding but he just couldn’t go to church with Mary. Maybe he should have.

“Reverend.” Harry shows him his badge. Quietly like, not to spook the folks. “Have you seen, or do you know this woman?” Harry’s hand shakes as he holds out the black-and-white picture of Mary with his own face torn off, the one he’d ripped from a frame earlier, smashing the glass.

He holds his arm still while he pushes the picture near the priest’s face.

The priest goes to take it and Harry has to let go of it. His fingers clench the picture; he barely wants to let Long Fingers touch it.

The priest holds it for a bit. He is quite calm and softly says, “Yes, I know Mary. She is a lovely lady. She comes sometimes, but not every day.” 

“You have church every day, Reverend?” says Denzel. The priest looks humble and proud of himself.

“Yes, my son. God calls us to help the meek and the lonely. Some of our parishioners have no one else; they would be lost without us. We try to provide a late dinner before the service; not much you understand just soup and bread. Jesus shared his food with the meek you must remember.”

Harry’s getting real restless; Denzel does the talking.

Harry grabs the photo back and puts it in his breast pocket. He can’t look at it.

“Mom,” he thinks. “Mom, not Mary too! Don’t take her away too!”

A few cars are grinding away through the gravel. A few folk are standing around by their cars chewing the fat. All smiles.

“They hold hands a lot, this bunch,” thinks Harry as he scans around logging every face in his mental gallery of images.

Denzel presses the priest further. Details. When, where and who with?

He knows nothing, he says.

Harry turns round, sick of listening to the grey priest.

They step inside, Denzel’s still talking to the priest. Harry quickly scans the place.

Bare. Plain, no statues or pictures. A cross behind the stone altar. Prayer books piled up at the end of each bench. He strides up the aisle. Behind the altar is a wooden floor. Benches facing in. Tatty green curtains behind the benches. In the corner some kind of heater. One arched window with cold air blowing in. Only a couple of windows down one side. The other side some trestle tables with the remains of the soup kitchen. A wardrobe behind the tables. For the vestments Harry reckons. The side door also behind the tables. He paces back toward the others, not much to see, a big trunk with boxes of groceries in, the poor box. No holy water by the door, no font.

Harry gives Denzel the nod. Nothing happening here. It’s empty now; Harry wants to get out.

They stand in the car park, Denzel getting his notebook out, asking the priest to repeat anything he can remember, which isn’t much. Harry’s car is the only one on the gravel now. The priest isn’t in much of a hurry, but they are. They’re itching. Denzel’s big frame leaning down toward the grey one. The priest languidly rubs his long fingers around each other. He can’t stop friggin’ talking about God.

“I know man,” thinks Denzel, “that’s your bag. Just give me the fucking facts, fast.” The guy starts a coughing fit and takes a year to get a handkerchief out. His lifting up yards of his surplice, he’s digging around in there, spitting out while he’s coughing. Denzel steps back. “But did you actually see her yourself?” he asks.

Harry’s gone walking all around the church. Weeds growing up beside the flaking wooden walls. He gets out his torch, there are no lights round the back. The evening is drawing in. The forest has walked its creaking way nearly up to the church. Mixture of brambles and scrub. Trees leaning over toward him. Harry’s had enough of trees. Hours and fucking hours, getting nowhere.

“Mary,” he says quietly to the dead ground. “Where’s George’s fucking suspect eh?”

Was he just bullshitting Harry? Had Mary just actually left him? Maybe Harry was a bad man and had got it all wrong. She’d been seeing someone else? George? Na. Some guy at this shithole? Had she been planning to go for months and been lying to him? He knew nothing about this lowlife church. What’s that he’d said to Denzel? She tells me everything … does she though?”

Doubt was creeping through Harry’s corkscrewed-up brain. He scuffed his feet around like a boy, looking at the ground. Had she been loving? Yes, always. Sure he had crazy hours on the force, but all the neighborhood knew; no one blinked an eye if the drapes were shut in the day. Wednesdays, Wednesdays were sweet. He’d sometimes clock off early; that was her half day. They’d shut the drapes and he’d kiss her soft neck and she’d run up those stairs before him.

“No, man, that was real,” he dreamed. It was real, he could tell in her body. “Where the fuck are you, Mary?” Kicking his way through briars he circles. Soft light from the end window. He can hear Denzel’s deep voice extracting anything sensible from the stoat. No windows by the side door, no light. “Who the fuck is that?” Harry spots a guy by the back door.

The guy’s watching them.

Looking away with a quick turn of the head the guy makes out Harry hasn’t eyeballed him.

Harry’s senses are prickling the back of his neck. Moving, stalking but not charging, Harry heads in the dude’s direction. Unable to hide his intentions, trying to change his face from spaced-out-angry to straight face. Straight cop face. His brows set, legs striding with intent. Leading with his broad shoulders he wants the guy to look up. He wants to remember his face close up, and store that face. Every feature on that face.

Denzel’s still asking the priest about stuff.

“So, Reverend, what denomination is your church? I haven’t been out here before. Nice spot you’ve got in the woods. Get many coming out this way?”

“Well, you know, it’s a walk that’s no lie, but most of my parish help each other out with car rides. A Christian will always help his brethren you know …” He leaves that sentence hanging. “There are many willing Good Samaritans in our little community. We are all equal in the eyes of God.”

“And which branch of God is that, Reverend? Evangelist, Catholic, Protestant; you tell me.”

“My son, there is only one church and one will. The will of God, that we choose to follow God’s will and our will is shaped to his to do as we will.”

“Fucking mumbo jumbo,” thinks Denzel. Heard all that shit before. “So you say Mary was good; did you see her helping any folk in particular? Or ever go off with anyone after mass? She make any friends like?”

“I’m sorry to say that I have never noticed what Mary did after mass; usually I say goodbye at the door and go inside.” He makes a humble face. “I don’t really spend time out in the parking lot. I’ve seen her sitting at the back and participating in the service but nothing outside of that. I do hope you find her soon.”

“Thank you, Reverend; ring us on this number if you hear anything at all, anything, about Mary or who may have seen her,” says Denzel.

Harry’s coming round the side toward the strange guy by the back door. He hadn’t seen him just now; where’d he come from then? Another door?

Denzel goes in and takes a quick look round and sees no one else. Guess the priest will go in and clear up the place, the supper, the prayer books and take off his robes. Denzel looks for a vestry, nothing. Maybe just that closet at the side, the brown wardrobe thing behind the tables.

Denzel doesn’t give a shit about religion; it just causes trouble. But if there were a God he’d pray right now. For Mary. He’d do anything for Harry. It was killing him that he couldn’t help his partner. And no fucking leads. Nothing. He’d stop at the next phone and ring in, see if the lieutenant had anything and check out what the young cop had found out about Mary’s friends.

Denzel hears movement. He runs for the door.

The little shit bolted. Harry knew he would. Fit for the chase. Harry was always fit for the chase. He always runs hard.

Scraping his way through the brambles the guy darts into the forest.

Harry’s in too, breathing hard, covering ground, dodging everything in his way.

“This little shit knows the forest,” Harry susses. The chase is on.

Denzel’s usually by his side, but not now. The priest made his quiet way back into his sanctuary. He’s proud that he does so much good. He lifts his worn face to the altar, walks up the aisle and prostrates himself on the ground, arms outstretched, submitting to his god. Minutes pass as he spreads out painfully on the cold, hard floor.

Getting up awkwardly in his cassock he sits in the front pew, face upturned to his one true cross and prays for Mary. Prays for Harry. Prays for Denzel and most of all prays for himself, for his burden is great and he carries it with humility.

A while back Mary had sat at her table, the stove warm and comforting, the radio on. As she wrote her little list her mind strayed to Harry and Denzel on their stakeout. She knew what it meant when she married him. He was tough, he was so tough. Hard, she knew he was hard at work, but the streets were safe; the streets were safer because Harry could be hard as nails. Not with her though. He was kind and tender. He never came back shouting or taking it out on her. She knew he saw ugly stuff, but he never brought that home with him. At home he was always her Harry.

He looked after her, let her be herself, let her do the things she wanted to make her happy. Many hours passed when he was working. She tried hard, she tried to help people in this funny little town. But that night just that time she laid down her pen and cried. Tears dripped down her face onto the paper and she prayed. She clasped her little hands together and prayed hard that nothing would ever happen to her Harry, that they’d never be parted. She knew in her heart that her love would cross an ocean to keep him safe. She thought about the idea that people fell in love with people they shouldn’t, and she was lucky. It was meant to be, she and her Harry.

Mary was glad she could help people at church; she thought she might make some friends. They were a bit different but that’s OK. The days were long and lonely sometimes. She sat back, still crying and hoped she wouldn’t worry so much when she had their baby.

The whistle blew loud, the kettle hissing over and wiping her tears.

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