Life in the Balance

Submitted into Contest #44 in response to: Write a story that starts with two characters saying goodbye.... view prompt



They were a pair of Josephs in matching amazing technicolor dream coats surrounded by a Terra-cotta Army of drab fellow commuters, 2 children in red walking in front of Schindler’s damned, easily and comfortably they walked hand in hand, down the gray gritty street of Main Street in the predawn haze of Louisville Kentucky.

They never went to bed angry. They were very giving to each other. He was tall, dark, and a bit too fat to be handsome, but she wouldn’t have him any other way. He fit her. Large men suited her. She was petite and a little too short to be a model, curvy, blue-eyed, and currently blonde. They had a sign over their bed that said, “Don’t be so busy making a living that you don’t take time to make a life.”

They embraced. They kissed passionately. “Have a great day, my love!” Said Gwen.

“You have a wonderful day too!” Said Jack.

“I love you to the moon,” he said walking away.

“I love you to the moon and back.” Jack heard over his shoulder.

“I love you to the moon and back three times!” He shouted.

Then she was gone around the corner, and he was down the street in the opposite direction. They were going on vacation together, but he was leaving this morning for Grand Cayman, the lucky dog. Gwen had to wrap up this serial killer case. She was joining him on Sunday for two solid weeks of fun in the sun. She walked into the police station and was about to sit down and check her email when her partner Joe came barreling around the corner, flying on caffeine, runner’s high, Red Bulls, and steroids.

“There’s another homicide and it looks like our guy, let’s go, we got to solve this before you turn into a pumpkin.” Joe was a good partner, but there was some friction over her commitment to work-life balance. She never stayed late. She never worked overtime. Hence, the pumpkin comment. She wasn’t working late today either. She and Jack were soon leaving on vacation for two full weeks on Grand Cayman. She felt certain she would wrap up this case before she left.

“Joe! The guy’s dead! He’s not going anywhere. I’m not a beat cop anymore, this the FBI and this isn’t a bank robbery. Cool your jets, man!”

“Cool my jets? It is so cute when a weirdo like you tries to be cool. That is so 90’s. At least you didn’t tell me you were feeling groovy.”

“You know I think it was Iacocca who said to trust your people if you had to work around the clock and couldn’t take a vacation you weren’t a good enough manager.”

Joe started to speak and stopped. He looked like he was going to explode.

They proceeded to the crime scene in silence. Joe didn’t want to be preached at again. He didn’t want to hear about the wonderful flawless fat Jack, blowhard, and helper of the homeless. Jack spent his days volunteering for nonprofits and providing financial counseling for gamblers. 

It was no accident they caught this case. The victim was Eugene White, an adult black male, 68 and retired, who frequented one the 5 riverboat casinos within 150 miles of Louisville, Kentucky. Like the other five victims in the Ohio River Valley, he had died of bowel obstruction—a unique and painful method of murder. It was a slow and painful death. They die of whichever complication of bowel obstruction gets them first. It could be a heart attack, a perforated bowel, and the sepsis that followed, or it could be like this guy, asphyxiation from drowning in his own vomit. They had a serial killer on their hands. He superglued the victim’s hands together in a “praying hands” pose, cemented the buttock closed, glued the man into his seat. The tortured end had a sublime purpose: to extract passwords and account information to totally clean out the funds of the victim. Many serial killers are about the thrill and the trophies. This one was about money.

“It looks like the same method of torture, to get the information on the accounts and clean them out,” said Gwen.

Joe said, “Look at the praying hands. I still think there is a religious aspect to this. Someone doesn’t like gamblers. It is significant they are being posed with praying hands.”

“Or it could just be more convenient that handcuffs,” Said Gwen.

“Gwen, you are blinded by your religiousness. The perp is a cult nut of some kind.” Gwen thought about it and said. “I think your right. I was wrong, but you are right.”

Gwen got out her iPad and went through her notes. “What are you doing?” said Joe.

“I have a hunch and—yeah, there it is. All the victims disappeared on a Monday. That is the typical day off for clergy.” 

“Well that can vary,” said Joe.

“Look at this!” Gwen had cross-referenced personal effects found on the victim. None of the victims had rosary beads, prayer beads like Japamala used in Hinduism only with a cross on it. This victim had rosary beads on the floor in front of him. Gwen picked them up and placed them around the man’s hands.

Holy crap!” said Joe. “That explains those weird indentations on the other hands! They had rosary beads around them!”

Joe looked glum. “Gwen, I need to apologize. I didn’t want to say anything, but I have spent some of the time you weren’t here, after hours, investigating another lead.”

He showed her the brochure on the victim's bedside table. “This is a brochure from your husband Jack’s financial counseling-thing.” He called it a thing because he was going to say scam, and it was the only thing he could think of at the last second. He thought Jack took advantage of the elderly. He had mentioned that to Gwen before, and she had not taken it well, and he didn’t have any proof.

“I was looking into Jack. I mean, he was connected to all the victims. We may disagree on this, but his business model is – questionable. Now it seems obvious that it was some member of the clergy. Jack is a Holy Roller type though...” said Joe.

Gwen snickered, “So you really think Jack could be a serial killer right under my nose, do you? Let’s run some fingerprint tests on the rosary beads.”

They found fingerprints on the beads belonging to a priest. His fingerprints were in the database because he was a registered sex offender from assaulting a ten-year-old boy in another jurisdiction twelve years ago. Apparently, he told the child he wanted to bless him on the inside with his own special holy water. The priest had a storage container. Joe went to get a warrant. Gwen went to church. The Father was hearing confessions.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been three days since my last confession.”

“Father I lied to my partner at the Bureau. I covered up evidence of who did a crime.”

“My daughter, how can you make this right?”

“Father, I have one thing to do to make it right and I will be on the straight and narrow. If you forgive me for what I am about to do, my conscience will be clear and my husband and I can start afresh.”

“My daughter, it is unusual to forgive a sin before you do it. What is it?”

“Father, I have to apprehend the suspect in the serial crime, and the circumstances are such that he will be unlikely to live through the apprehension.”

“Daughter, I absolve you in the name of the Father-son and holy ghost, say an act of contrition, five Hail Mary's and two Our Fathers, go in peace.”

Gwen went to the pew, kneeled, and said her prayers. Then she got up, flung open the priest’s door to the confessional, and sprayed chloroform in his face. She pulled the “drop gun” out her jacket pocket and put it in his hand, stuffed the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

She closed the confessional door and called for back-up. Her story would be that she confronted the priest in the confessional. He had confessed and was either so filled with remorse or so depressed from being caught that he decided to eat his gun. Evidence tying the priest to the other murders would be found in the storage unit rented in his name, as she and Jack had planned.

They had been building up this nest egg for years. Jack had gone to the Caymans ahead of her to secure their funds in the numbered account. She knew Joe was onto Jack. Now she was going to be famous for cracking the case.

Maybe she was done with FBI work, she could leverage this into being on CNN or something. They had quite a nest egg, she would only work if she wanted to work. She needed to do something. One had to maintain that work-life balance. Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop, and there were other evil gamblers who had passed on every chance to repent who could be turned, but that doggone Joe had started to suspect Jack so now we had to end this run.

These Gamblers had been blessed with the gift of purgatory. They had suffered enough before that most of the 30 had repented. Only 5 of the cases had made it to the FBI. Old people dying of heart attacks and sepsis often doesn't get much attention. She and Jack had taken their confessions and administered the last rites. The suffering they felt was limited, unlike the eternal suffering in hell they would have experienced without their inspired work. The pedophile priest deserved whatever befell him, and he had absolved Gwen of any responsibility for his death. Gwen smiled as she went through security at the airport as she thought: there is always the nuns or even the televangelists because doing good doesn't have an end, and they were providing balance.

June 01, 2020 20:10

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