Father Stan Jeffries’ home was meticulously organized and despite its recent vacancy, it smelled fresh and clean. Detective Louis Stratton could even detect one of his favorite smells, birthday cake candles. He had followed his wife into dozens of candle stores over the years and sniffed more candles than he could count. His favorite scent had always been the birthday cake ones. They always made him hungry. Sure enough, there on the edge of a counter was a partially burned birthday cake candle.
The blinds were pulled, so the room was dark except for the sunlight that leaked in from the sides of the blinds. His partner, Robyn Macomber, turned the switch on a lamp and the room took on a warm glow. It was definitely the home of a bachelor but not as much so as one might have thought. While it lacked an artistic feminine touch, at least the furniture all matched and the curtains and tablecloth didn’t clash.
A giant flat screen television set filled one corner of the small living room across from a worn, leather chair flanked by twin end tables that each held several neatly arranged stacks of books. Louis felt a strange urge to sit in the comfortable looking chair and read and perhaps even steal a nap. He shook his head and mumbled something to himself about how retirement couldn’t come soon enough if he was actually getting this soft.
Robyn had wandered down a narrow hallway adorned with as many photos as one might find in the home of a married couple who had multiple children and grandchildren. For someone who had never having married or fathered children, Father Jeffries certainly had a lot of friends. One of them had reported him missing after he mysteriously failed to attend mass and then missed the following two days of work as well.
A swell of emotion bunched up in Robyn’s throat and she turned back to her partner and said in a slightly choked voice. “Interesting home isn’t it? There’s something different about it. I feel safe here, like I could sleep through the night in peace.”
Louis nodded silently. She had nailed it. Peace. That’s what Louis felt as he looked at the photos in the hallway. It felt like home and he too had a lump of emotion catch in his chest.
He joined Robyn in the priest’s bedroom, another simple but dutifully cleaned room with minimalist décor and a pile of books beside the bed. Robyn was staring at a painting on one of the walls. The caption said, “the anointing” and it was one of the strangest paintings she had ever seen. Two female angels were pouring a massive pitcher of oil on to the head of a prayerful man sitting cross-legged on the floor. His eyes were closed but even without seeing his expression, Robyn could tell that the stress and anxiety of his day, and maybe even his life, was being washed away from him.
“The anointing.” She liked it and she realized that she liked everything about this little, unassuming home. “I wish I had known Father Jeffries.” She said suddenly to Louis who had joined her in contemplating the portrait. “I bet he had been a wonderful priest.”
Stratton nodded. “That’s the word on him.”
Since his disappearance, they had interviewed dozens of his parishioners and several of his fellow-priests and had yet to hear a negative or damaging word about his character or integrity. His reputation was impeccable and he seemed to have the respect of everyone who knew him. It reminded Louis of an old leadership adage that said, “The definition of success is when the people who know you the best, respect you the most.” It seemed to be true of Father Jeffries and Louis found himself hoping that it really was. God knew the Catholic Church needed a priest it could trust.
It was hard for Louis to remain optimistic about human nature after spending an entire career in law enforcement, investigating scandal and controversy. He knew he had become jaded over the years but he still held out hope that not everyone was a liar or a thief. Surely, there were people who were genuinely honest and forthright.
He remembered something he learned in college in an obscure philosophy class, something about how the Greek word for “hypocrisy” meant “experienced in the art of acting.” Despite spending his entire adult life exposing people who acted inconsistently in their public and private lives, he still wanted to believe that somebody out there could actually have a shred of personal integrity and so he was secretly pulling for Father Jeffries, desperately hoping that their investigation revealed nothing scandalous about him. He wanted this priest to be the real deal.
Even more than that he wanted him to be found.
“Here’s something,” Robyn said, picking up a black, leather journal from the top of the end table beside the neatly tucked bed. Their search warrant limited them to handling only those items that they found in plain sight, so she bent to open the journal, hoping its contents might reveal something that could help their investigation.
“Does it look promising, or is it just ‘dear diary’ type stuff?”
Robyn was already busily skimming pages and didn’t respond.
“Let’s hope he wrote as much as he read,” Louis muttered to himself as his partner continued reading.
End of Chapter Two. To purchase this book and continue reading in printed or electronic form click here.