Pulpit love, a short story, Part 1
It should have been a fine day ! It certainly started that way. When Father Phillip got up at 7.00 am, his wife Majolica was almost ready for breakfast. She was already dressed for work and all made up. Her husband joined her in the bathroom adjacent to their bedroom, coming from behind her as she had just finished brushing her teeth. He grabbed her by the hips and kissed her neck, halfway between the ear and the shoulder. That's all it took for them to come ablaze and end up back on the bed. Barely twenty minutes later, red faced and still breathing heavily, Majolica was attempting to repair the damage to her hair and make-up. She would be a little late today for the first period French lesson she teaches at Paradise Pines High School. Husband and wife exchanged a last passionate kiss on the front porch of their house. Majolica elegantly sat at the wheel of her black BMW Z4 coupe, while her pastor husband was already inside his late model Jaguar XJ. Spreading the word of God has its privileges...
Stephen Capella picked up the phone while looking at the clock. Instinctively, he wrote down the exact time of the call : 7.34 am:
- "Paradise Pines Police Department, Detective Capella speaking, how may I help you ?"
- "Hello, huh, hi, my name is Mrs Randolph, Cynthia Randolph, and I live in the Windy Meadows subdivision, right here in Paradise Pines. I'm not sure I'm doing the right thing, I may be overreacting, but both my daughters didn't come home last night, and that's the first time that ever happened. I tried to call both their cell phones, but they won't answer and they never do that, so I'm very worried".
- "All right, Ms. Randolph, I'm gonna ask you a few quick questions regarding your daughters. You said they both appear to be missing, what are their names ?"
-Marigold and Hattie Randolph, they are both eighteen,you see, they are twins !"
- "Where were they supposed to be before they were due back home ?"
- "Well, they left the house at 5.30 last night to go to bible study, and we were expecting them back for dinner around 7.00, but they never showed up".
- "What church ?"
- "Paradise Pines Church of God, on 53rd avenue".
- "Yeah, I know the place !. Ms Randolph, give me a short description of your daughters, please
- "Well, they're both very much alike if you're not familiar with them, blonde with long hair, about 5' 3", slim, but not skinny. Both were wearing ample black skirts with three rows of frills. Hattie had a turquoise top and Marigold a salmon one". Capella took notes carefully.
- "Did someone drop them off at the church ?"
- "No, they have their own car which they share, a red Mini Cooper with a white roof".
- "You wouldn' t happen to know the registration, by any chance ?"
- "Oh yes, I do, it's a Florida licence plate, from Paradise county, and there is no number, just the word "TWINS"
- "Very well, Ms Randolph. I'm going to do a few preliminary enquiries, and I will call you back within the hour. In the meantime, if you hear anything, please call me on my cell phone, here's the number"
- "Thank you, Detective, please find our girls". She started crying.
- "We will, Mam, we will.
Upon hanging up, Capella made the usual calls :hospitals, local morgue, county jail, and also the Paradise County Sheriff's department. Nothing, nada, rien ! He then called the church where the two young girls were supposed to have been seen last. He spoke with one Susan Hacquett, and asked her if she could check on the parking lot for a little red Mini Cooper with the license plate "TWINS" on it. He instructed her to absolutely not touch the car, provided it was there. She promised to call him back shortly.
Father Phillip parked his car in the space assigned to him. As one of the founding members of the church, some twelve years before, and also being the current church's financial director, he was entitled to his reserved parking space. He grabbed his briefcase on the passenger's seat, locked the car doors, turned around to admire his recently acquired toy and walked the short distance to the main building. Once inside, he stopped by the cafeteria to get a mug of hot coffee, which he carried with him. He reached his office and sat at his desk. He sipped some of his coffee, and looked at his "to do" list for the day. Nothing but a succession of boring meetings with the other heads of departments, as it was this time of the year again, when they were in the middle of establishing a budget for the following year. He took another sip of coffee, adjusted the air conditioning temperature to 72, and, as every morning, proceeded to unlock the massive safe against the wall facing his desk. He entered the twelve digit combination. As soon as the door opened, he immediately knew something had gone terribly wrong...
Susan Hacquett, the Paradise Pines Church of God's receptionist,called back Detective Capella less than half an hour after his initial call. She reported to him that there actually was a red Mini Cooper on the North parking lot of the church, and that the license plate read "TWINS". She assured Capella that she hadn't touched anything. She had justed looked inside the car from a short distance but didn't notice anything abnormal. Capella thanked her for her help and said he would stop by later. He quickly looked outside the window of his office, and decided against taking his raincoat and umbrella. Before leaving the building, he told the front desk about his whereabouts, and once outside, got into his service car. On his way to the church he called Cynthia Randolph to tell her he had located the Mini. He asked her to meet him there, with a set of spare keys, if she had one. She said she did.
Father Phillip was in complete shock ! He had just discovered that someone had broken into the safe. He could see, without touching a thing, that the pile of files had been moved and left in a disorderly manner, something he himself would never do, but more importantly, it seemed that there was a big chunk of money missing, out of what the church called its "treasure chest" usually amounting to about two hundred and fifty thousand dollars...in cash and growing ! He immediately locked his office, and headed for father Gibson's office, the church's boss...
Capella had no difficulty locating the Mini Cooper. At this time of the day, on a weekday, the parking lot was for the most part deserted. He parked his cruiser close by and started examining the immediate perimeter of the little car. Nothing caught his attention. He opened the trunk of his car and grabbed a pair of latex gloves. Then, he removed the aluminium case containing his fingerprint lifting kit and set it on the ground, right next to the Mini driver's door. He had lifted half a dozen useful prints, on both doors and the trunk lid of the Mini, when a white Saab convertible pulled up to the scene. Capella sighed. He hated dealing with pain, his and other people's. Cynthia Randolph was a tall blonde with an impressive figure, on the good side of her mid-forties but it needed a stretch of imagination to believe she was actually that old. She was dressed casually, designer's jean and black polo shirt, little red polo player on the left breast. No make up. Lots of tears. Still gorgeous, though !
- "Ms. Randolph ? I'm detective Capella. Sorry to make your acquaintance under these circumstances. I just checked the car for possible prints. She handed the detective the spare set of keys and he unlocked the door on the passenger's side. A quick examination of the interior of the car told the experienced detective there was nothing there that could possibly pass for a clue. He knew he should have sent her home. Instead, he said :
- "I'm going to get inside now and talk to the people here. You can stay if you'd like but you'll have to wait in the lobby. I need to do my work alone. Then, I'll tell you what I learned, if anything.
- "Oh, thank you for letting me stay, I promise I won't get in your way. I appreciate everything you do to find our girls, thank you. And as she was talking she grabbed his forearm with both hands and squezed hard...
All the elders and pastors of the church had been summoned to attend an extraordinary meeting in the conference room. By 9.30, everbody was present, to the exception of Pastor Gregory, currently on a pricey two week cruise to the Caribbean with his wife, and Father Hoffner, the director of education, who couldn't have been located on time. Father Gibson explained the situation to the group of about twenty five people. After been informed of the break in by Father Phillip, the two men had counted the money left in the safe. Twice. And twice, they had come to the same horrid conclusion : eighty thousands dollars and change in cash was missing ! The purpose of the meet was to determine the proper course of action. Upon the announcement of the amout of the heist, the whole group went from a state of grace to a state of shock. A bitter, animated discussion would follow, everbody trying to find a logical explanation to what really happened, and more importantly decide where to go from there. The tensions were running high, old grudges were unhearthed, and sparks flared as some were quick to pass the blame on either Father Phillip, the money man, or Father Gibson, the boss, or both of them combined. The question was also raised : should the Police be involved or not. And on this one everbody agreed : what happens to the church stays in the church. If the Police were notified, the local press would most likely get wind of the story, and that would be a potential disaster for the church attendance and growth. The revenue could get affected. So, a unanimous decision was made to cover up the facts, while waiting and seeing...
When they walked into the large, airy lobby of the church, Cynthia Randolh and Steve Capella separated. Cynthia went to sit on a bench, while Capella walked up to the reception desk where he made, in the flesh, the acquaintance of Susan Hacquett :
- "Good morning, I'm detective Stephen Capella, from the Paradise Pines Police Department, you must be Ms Hacquett, as he looked as her name tag".
- "Oh, good morning detective, nice to finally meet you after talking to you on the phone" Susan was a talker, Capella could tell right away, "we've been so busy this morning with the emergency meeting and all that jazz". Capella was all ears. "and all that money missing, oh my God, it's just so unbelievable". It only takes one to spill the beans, and Susan Hacquett had just done that, still unaware of the future effects of her talking too much.:
- "And what missing money would that be, Ms. Hacquett ?' She suddenly realized how stupid she had been, having been strongly instructed to keep a tight lid on things, and suddenly, she was in a tight spot herself and faced with an impossible decision to make : disobey her instructions and possibly jeopardize her future paychecks, or lie to a police detective. She prayed for immediate help but God either didn't hear her or was busy on the other line. So she tried to finesse, something she wasn't really equipped to do :
- "Well, I'm not supposed to talk about it, so let me paige Pastor Gibson for you. In any case, you didn't hear it from me, right ?" With a little girl like giggle, while falsely rearranging her French twist. Capella rolled up his eyes and sighed...
To be continued...
Copyright 2012 by Austinhealy, his heirs and assigns
- Pulpit love, a short story, Part 2
As he conducts his investigation regarding two missing twin girls, Detective Capella begins to smell a rat. And as he always says himself : if I smell a rat, there is a rat !