He didn’t know whether he was trying to prove the boy guilty or innocent. Cleansed by Fire.
May 23, 2013
A VG Serial: Cleansed by Fire
Father Frank hung up the telephone and leaned back in his chair. He had convinced Andy Sanders to come in for a talk the next evening at six. It had not been a pleasant conversation. Andy wanted to know why Father Frank was being so pushy. The priest couldn’t tell him it was at Abbie’s request. That would kill any chance of success. If Andy came with a closed mind, it would be difficult to get very far.
The first task was to get Andy into the meeting. Step one accomplished. He would worry about step two tomorrow.
There had been lectures on marriage counseling at the seminary. But lectures and lessons measured up to actually doing it in much the same manner as reading an article on playing tennis measured up to getting on the court and facing an opponent. This would be only his second “real live test” of marriage counseling since he was ordained. The first case had been somewhat easier. He said a short prayer asking for guidance in his meeting with Andy.
The phone rang. Please, not another marriage problem, he thought.
“Prince of Peace,” he answered.
“Are you a Prince?” a strange, somewhat unreal voice asked. “The Prince of Peace?”
“Ah, no. I’m not a prince, I’m the pastor—is that you, Georgia?”
Georgia giggled on the other end of the line. “For a moment, I had you going, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you did. I never thought of you as mean-spirited.”
“Now you know. I only do that to people who taunt me about having dates.”
“I guess I deserved that. What’s on your mind? You need guidance in what to wear tonight?”
“I do not. And if you’re not nice to me, I won’t tell you what I found out.”
Father Frank held up his right hand, thumb holding down his little finger. “I promise to be nice, scout’s honor.”
Georgia giggled again. “Good. For how long?”
“Depends on what you found out.”
“Well.” Georgia made that a two-syllable word. “First, earlier, you’d asked about Ward. The records on Ward Campo are sealed, so we’re not going to find out anything from CPS.”
“Not a surprise.”
“But I did find someone who had heard of Joe Josephson. Turns out, he was one of Ms. Campo’s many men friends. The person I talked with couldn’t be sure of the dates. After all, we’re talking nine years or so. But she thought that Josephson was in the picture about the time Ward came to CPS.”
Father Frank settled back in his chair. Ward, at the very least, would have known Josephson. Which, of course, meant nothing. By itself. He needed to talk with Ward.
“Would any of your numerous contacts happen to know where Ward lives?”
“I doubt it. I know when his mother was here, they lived out past the milk plant. But she’s been gone for… ” Father Frank could hear her sucking on her teeth. “I’m guessing, maybe three to four years, maybe five. It was on the left side of the road, not far past the plant. Not much else out there, until you get half way to Winston.”
“Thanks, Georgia. And I won’t even ask about your date tonight.”
Father Frank sat staring into space. It wouldn’t do to go knock on the door and ask if Ward Campo lived there. He had already checked the telephone book. No Campo listed, Ward or otherwise.
His eyes popped open wide and he picked up the telephone book. A few moments later, he dialed.
“Hi. Is Ward there?”
The man at the car wash said, “No. He didn’t show today.”
“Does he still live out past the milk plant?” Father Frank held his breath.
“Yeah. Far as I know, he ain’t moved.”
Thirty minutes later, Father Frank sat in his car, looking at what he hoped was Ward Campo’s house. In many ways, it looked like B.D.’s house, about the same size and shape. Except Ward’s house had been painted in recent years and the yard was neat. No fences delineated the property. The porch had been recently rebuilt. Like B.D.’s house, there were two windows in the front. Here, both contained unbroken glass and had shades, which were pulled down. No car sat in the dirt driveway. No lights were on inside, no sound filtered out.
Father Frank got out and went to the front door and knocked. When no sound came from inside, he knocked louder.
“Ward?” No answer.
The priest looked up and down the road. The only vehicle in sight was a milk truck pulling into the plant a quarter mile to the south. He checked around the left side. Nothing there. Again, the window had a shade pulled down, allowing no suggestion of what was inside. He continued around to the back.
Like the front, it contained a door and two windows, but here, one of the windows was high, possibly into a bathroom. And the back door had glass in the top half. As with all the windows, a shade covered the glass, allowing no view inside.
A short distance behind the house, a tire swing hung from a high branch of a hickory tree. From the looks of the ground underneath, it got used frequently. As he looked at it, he realized it was higher off the ground than one might expect for a young kid.
To drag your feet under that swing, you’d have to be pretty tall, Father Frank thought. As tall as I am.
Farther out, a burn barrel smoldered. Ward must have been here sometime today. Father Frank walked to the barrel and looked inside. He rummaged around the immediate area until he found a piece of reinforcing rod. He picked it up and poked around inside the barrel. Tin cans, remnants of cardboard boxes, and aluminum foil pans seemed to be the bulk of what had not burned. Certainly nothing from which he could gain information, other than Ward liked TV dinners.
Father Frank started back toward the front of the house. The remaining side of the house provided no more information than the previous three had. But something in the back of his mind stopped him. He walked back and looked at the rear door again. Yes. His mind had recorded it correctly. The door used an old standard skeleton key, which meant it had a keyhole.
Probably he would be able to see nothing, but he was here, and that was his only chance to see anything. Bending down, he peered through the small keyhole.
He was looking into a tiny room. A table, probably eighteen inches square, sat in the center of the floor, with two folding chairs beside it. He couldn’t see much else, but salt and pepper shakers, and an apple on the table made Father Frank believe this was the kitchen. An opening at the far side led into another room. He could see some furniture there and what looked like the front door. Probably the living room.
What captured his attention, however, what caused him to suck in air, was sitting on the floor of the kitchen. A yellow, plastic container that looked like it might hold five gallons.
Stamped on the side was the word “DIESEL.”
Chapters of the serial are published on Monday, Thursday, and Sunday.
You can learn more about Cleansed by Fire and other James H. Callan novels on his Amazon Author Page.