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Authors: Frederick Ramsay

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2 - Secrets: Ike Schwartz Mystery 2

BOOK: 2 - Secrets: Ike Schwartz Mystery 2
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Secrets

An Ike Schwartz Mystery

Frederick Ramsay

www.FrederickRamsay.com

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2005, 2012 by Frederick Ramsay

First E-book Edition 2012

ISBN: 9781615951673 epub

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

The historical characters and events portrayed in this book are inventions of the author or used fictitiously.

Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

www.poisonedpenpress.com

[email protected]

Contents

Secrets

Contents

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Chapter Thirty-eight

Chapter Thirty-nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-one

Chapter Forty-two

Chapter Forty-three

Chapter Forty-four

Chapter Forty-five

Chapter Forty-six

Chapter Forty-seven

Chapter Forty-eight

Chapter Forty-nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-one

Chapter Fifty-two

Chapter Fifty-three

Epilogue

More from this Author

Contact Us

Dedication

To my father, A. Ogden Ramsay (1904-2000)

Known to generations of McDonogh School students as “Bugs,” he remains, even now, an inspiration for many and a standard against which I will always measure my life.

Acknowledgments

My thanks to the many readers and commentators who critiqued this story in its several incarnations—John Rundle, Bette Laswell, David Bishop, P. J. Colderon, Cindy Chow, Jean Jenkins, Nancy Clarke, my wife, Susan, and, of course, the folks at Poisoned Pen Press who have magically turned this sow’s ear into a silk purse.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention the countless people who constituted the eight congregations I had the privilege of serving, at one time or another, in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and who taught me so much about people. I assure them that none of them ended up as a character in this book, although there were times when I had to fight very hard to resist the temptation to use one or two.

The same holds true for my clergy brothers and sisters. They may, however, see something of themselves in Blake Fisher, for when all is said and done, he represents both the best and the worst of us all.

Chapter One

The church huddled in a small grove of pine and oak set back from the road at the town’s northern edge. Featured on postcards for decades, it was in great demand for weddings by Callend College women, area residents and, on occasion, visitors from as far away as Washington, DC. The previous vicar, in order to reduce the number of requests for those events from outsiders, imposed preconditions on its use. If you wished to be married in Stonewall Jackson Memorial Episcopal Church, you had to be a member in good standing for at least six months or you had to pay a user’s fee of five thousand dollars. Every year, membership rose from January to June, then fell off precipitously.

Constructed entirely of local grey limestone, it contrasted sharply with the rest of Picketsville, whose architecture leaned toward antebellum. Nineteenth-century tastes dismissed limestone as ordinary and ill-suited for erecting a modern city. The only correct façade for a building, they believed, was brick. Some of the town’s older buildings still displayed bullet holes chipped into salmon red bricks, acquired when the Union Armies began their descent down the Shenandoah Valley into the heart of Dixie.

At night, the church sank into the shadows cast by surrounding trees. On a moonless night like this one, it disappeared completely.

Waldo Templeton moved cautiously toward the church doors, jet black in the night’s palette of grays. His shoes, dusty from the gravel path, grated against stone steps. He extended his right arm its full length and pushed gently on the right-hand door with his fingertips. Not locked. He frowned. Why not locked? It swung silently inward. He could smell oil recently applied to its ancient hinges. He paused. The church often went unlocked. So many people had keys; it probably didn’t make any difference. He moved forward to a second set of doors, his hand caressing their smooth glass surface. He pushed through them as well.

Starlight outside, black as a raven’s wing within, and only a flickering red candle suspended over the aumbry showing him which way to go. He fumbled to his right for the light switches. He hesitated and then withdrew his hand. If the doors weren’t locked, better not turn on any lights. No one was supposed to be here at this hour anyway, and light attracted attention. He might have been followed. No, no lights. He hesitated and then started forward again, submerged in black velvet darkness. He crept up the center aisle, his arms outstretched like a blind man. He stubbed his toe on one pew, banged his knee against another. He sucked in his breath and waited. Nothing stirred. His eyes adjusted to the dark and he moved forward again, a bit more confidently. He recognized the looming bulk of the organ to his right and could just make out the communion railing in front of him. But before he could steady himself on it, he tripped. This time he cursed and dropped to his knees. He held his breath, marking time with the pounding of his heart. He stood slowly and swung his head around, eyes boring into the unyielding gloom, searching, listening for any sign of danger. He rubbed his shin and took three more steps. His hand touched the altar’s cool marble and starched linen. Feeling his way along its smooth edge, he slipped behind it. He’d need the key.

The first bullet ripped through his shoulder, knocking his hand away from the altar and spinning him around. Before he could react, the second gave him a third eye and sent him reeling into the nineteenth-century bas relief carved reredos behind him. His slow descent to the red carpet left a matching smear on its white painted facing. The odor of cordite, like New Age frankincense, drifted upward to mingle with older high church incense ingrained in the ceiling’s dark oak beams.

His killer flicked on a small Maglite and carefully retrieved two shell casings from the carpet, then knelt and rifled Waldo’s pockets. The figure stood with a grunt and, flashlight upended on the altar, fumbled with a key ring, removed one, and pressed it into a wax container, first one side then the other. More key jingling and the ring and its keys were returned to Waldo’s pocket. The wall clock by the open sacristy door read 11:03. Clad entirely in black, except for a splash of white at the throat, Waldo’s executioner walked the length of the nave, slipped out the door, and pulled it to, making sure the lock snapped shut. The car sat parked out of sight on the church’s auxiliary lot, well behind the building and nearby under a copse of oaks. The headlights wouldn’t go on until the car bumped onto the main road.

***

In the Middle Ages anyone on the run, in fear for his life, or simply in danger—if he were able to reach a church and place his hand on its altar—would then fall under the protection of the Church and, presumably, God. He would be granted Sanctuary and made safe—safe in a consecrated place, on holy ground. Felons fleeing the King’s men could gain a respite from their flight, perhaps just long enough to confess their sins, receive unction, and go to their maker shriven and clean. But for others, it bought time. Time for bribes to be paid, for innocence to be proven, or a covenant struck. Unfortunately, for Waldo Templeton, none of these possibilities materialized. He had managed to find Sanctuary of a sort, not the kind he sought, not one with permanence, and certainly not one that could save his life.

His problems began when Picketsville filled with news people, stringers, and hangers-on from around the country. All the major television networks had sent trucks and reporters to cover the robbery of five hundred million dollars in fine art from Callend College for Women the previous spring. It had made headlines on the national news. And then, with the establishment of an apparent link between the robbery and a terrorist cell, a second wave of media personnel washed in to become a beast in need of constant feeding. The sheriff’s office and its laconic leader, Ike Schwartz, could not have kept it satisfied if they had tried. So they didn’t. Reporters with network connections, local stations to supply and deadlines to meet, scoured the town looking for news—any news. In the feeding frenzy that followed, they overlooked very little.

Waldo should have known better. He should have holed up in his little town house and waited out the onslaught of media mania. Then, too, he had a run of bad luck. He went to the Crossroads Diner at ten o’clock for coffee as he always did and sat in his customary bench in a back booth. Buried in his paper, he failed to notice the commotion at the front of the diner. When a woman reporter with impossibly curly red hair arrived with her camera crew in tow to do a color piece on the locals, Waldo did not move. If only he had been sitting with his back to the door, or had not lowered his paper at that precise moment, or if he had just this once resisted the urge to add caffeine to his system, he might still be alive. But for reasons known only to him and now forever lost, he remained seated, smiling, and staring into the camera’s red eye, his blurred image broadcast on television stations across the country.

It is one of life’s great ironies that critical events hang on small decisions made on the spur of the moment, decisions for the most part irrational and impulsive. Red lights are ignored, cocktails are consumed, drugs are sampled, a phone is left ringing—and people die. Most of our lives are played out as a series of these small, singular determinations, made without thought to the consequences they carry. And one by one they pile up, each knocking into another, into those of others, like dominos, until their effect is enormous. Lives are ruined; vengeance is sought, wars begun, and all because someone chose to turn right instead of left, or, in Waldo’s case, to remain seated and smiling. Small decisions—massive changes—the Butterfly Effect.

Chapter Two

Millicent Bass’ sole source of income, aside from a modest sum she received from a trust fund, came from the meager salary she earned as a part-time secretary for Stonewall Jackson Memorial Episcopal Church. She believed she should be paid more. But, because she had access to all of the church’s files, she knew the bottom line on the budget contained no money for a raise. Furthermore, the new vicar did not come cheap. And that rankled. He did not conform to her strict standards of what a clergyman ought to be. In fact, she counted the very fact he had taken the post in Picketsville as a mark against him.

Millie grew up in Alexandria, before outsiders moved into that historic town and turned it into just another chi-chi bedroom community inside the Washington Beltway. She had very decided and mostly negative views of those living in the Commonwealth west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. “If he were any good,” she declaimed to her mah-jongg club, “he wouldn’t be forced to take a job in a mission church in a backwater town like this one.” The internal contradiction implicit of this analysis eluded her. It was just as well.

Millicent had been the church secretary for over two decades. “Vicars come and vicars go, but Millie,” the saying went, “was forever.” Her years of service, she believed, endowed her with certain privileges. She could be selectively rude to some parishioners, share gossip with others, and be outraged when one of those not in her select set dared to gossip without her knowledge or permission. She knew secrets.

Over the years the church had fallen into gentle decay and now existed as an insignificant parochial mission. Most of its parishioners, including Millicent, were content for it to stay that way. She felt certain this new man with his endless talk of evangelism and his plans for what he called “outreach” made her and everyone else very uncomfortable. Well, not everyone. Some of the new families, the ones with noisy children who disturbed the collective piety of Millie and her friends who were, after all, like Saint Peter, the rock on which the church had been built—those people thought outreach wonderful. Millicent pursed her lips. She and her friends agreed that those people really belonged farther up Main Street at Saint Mark’s Lutheran. There, they were told, children ran wild up and down the aisles, people sang dreadful praise choruses, and the minister told jokes from the pulpit.

She hung up her coat and flicked on her computer. She would need to do the Sunday bulletin and print copies. She searched her desk for Waldo’s hymn list. She needed it to fill in the blanks where the hymn numbers went. She searched in her in-box but could not find it. She tried calling Waldo at his office, discovered he had not yet arrived. Real Estate people, she thought, no better than gypsies, the way they kept hours; and the money they made selling other people’s houses. Outrageous—no answer at his house either. She decided to wait an hour and call again. In the meantime she resumed her search for the old vicar’s files.

No one knew that he’d kept notes and even tape recordings of his counseling sessions in a locked box. Well, no one except Millicent, who had a duplicate key, which she had made one afternoon when the vicar thought he had lost his. Millicent “found” it for him the next day. Those files contained some very juicy stuff. But ever since the old vicar died, she could not find them. At first, she thought his widow might have taken them with her when she came to clean out his office after his funeral. But Millicent called on one pretext or another and discovered they were not with her either. She wondered if the new vicar had them, then guessed he did not. She had scoured the office before he came, and removed anything she thought might be useful. Where could they have gotten to?

Aside from her main task of producing a readable bulletin for the upcoming Sunday service, she helped the Altar Guild set up every Friday. She enjoyed that part. The ladies joining her were old friends and it gave her a chance to gossip about everyone else in the congregation. Four members of that august body—pillars of the church—would arrive in a few minutes. She cleared her desk, checked her watch, and went into the vicar’s office. He would not arrive until well after ten.

He claimed to be making pastoral calls but she held to the opinion that he slept in. She switched on the fluorescent lights and surveyed his office. As she passed by the door that led into the sacristy and then into the church, she thought she smelled something. Not a nice odor. It seemed stronger nearer the door. She opened it. Nothing in the sacristy. She passed through the small room with its cabinets holding silver and communion supplies and peered into the church. With only early morning light filtered by dark stained glass, she couldn’t see very much. The main switches were at the far end of the nave next to the glass doors leading from the narthex. But the switches controlling the sanctuary lights lay at her fingertips.

She flicked all four and stepped around the corner to look. Something had happened during the night. The altar cloth, the Fair Linen, hung askew, one end in untidy folds on the floor. One large brass candlestick lay on its side, its candle crosswise on the altar. She thought at first the Brogan boys had broken in again. She would call their mother, but that would be a waste of time. Mrs. Brogan was notoriously blind to her boys’ behavior. “Just boys being boys,” she would say, never acknowledging that boys did not normally set fire to barns and that if they did, they went to jail.

She made an awkward genuflection at the communion rail and stepped up, thinking to restore the damage. A pair of shoes caught her eye first and then, stepping to her left, she saw the body. At first she thought Waldo was sleeping. It did not occur to her to question the likelihood he would be sleeping in the sanctuary at a quarter to ten in the morning. She tried to say his name. Croak. She tried again and managed a ragged whisper. When she saw the blood on the reredos and the bullet hole in his forehead, she screamed. When the first of four Altar Guild members joined her five minutes later, they found her collapsed on the floor, mouth open and moaning.

One had the presence of mind to call the sheriff’s office.

BOOK: 2 - Secrets: Ike Schwartz Mystery 2
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