Now the man with the burning paper cross was threatening him. Cleansed by Fire.

More chapters from Cleansed by Fire

A VG Serial: Cleansed by Fire

Chapter 18

He tried the door. The knob turned but the bolt stopped it from opening.

Just as well. I shouldn’t trespass.

He looked at the keyhole again. Sometimes those old locks could be picked easily. He shook his head. What was he thinking? That would be out and out wrong. But there could be some evidence inside, something that would point to Ward. Or not.

Remember, he cautioned himself, Ward is only a suspect in your mind. As far as you know, he has done nothing.

Father Frank took a deep breath. It made no difference. Tempting as it was, only an emergency would justify breaking into someone’s home.

As he drove back into Pine Tree, he could not remove the image of the diesel can from his memory. Why would Ward Campo need diesel fuel? He didn’t have a tractor.

Why couldn’t he have a car that used diesel? Father Frank answered his own question. He could.

Mike said all three fires had been started using diesel as the accelerant. Of course, in this community, diesel was a com­mon commodity. Many people had diesel tractors. Even more had diesel trucks.

Even if Ward had the means, did he have any motive? If, and Father Frank realized it was a big if, Josephson had been the man guilty of abusing Ward, what did that have to do with burn­ing churches?

Father Frank had just passed the city limit sign, when a mud-covered truck passed him, and without warning swerved over only inches in front of the Taurus. Father Frank jerked the wheel to the right and slammed on the brakes. Instantly, the car fishtailed. With teeth clenched, he struggled to bring the car under control. His car left the pavement and the steering wheel almost wrenched free as the first tire found the softer dirt of a shallow ditch. The Taurus headed for a concrete culvert, wheels locked and skidding on slick grass. The priest had no control over the car.

Three feet from the culvert, the parish car stopped. But Father Frank’s pulse still raced. He laid his head on the steering wheel, and took a series of deep breaths, trying to slow the rapid fluttering of his heart.

Suddenly, something smashed against his window. Adrenalin shot through him as his head popped up. Inches away, a red, angry face was yelling at him. Beyond the screaming man, Father Frank saw the truck that had run him off the road, sitting on the side of the road a few yards away, driver’s door standing open. Carefully, he rolled the window down a third of the way.

“… hole, and don’t you never do nothing like that again or I’m gonna whup your hide. Cops been after me. Why? Cause you sicced ’em on me.”

Father Frank looked at the man, confused over his tirade. Then he remembered the face. The man from The Corral. The paper-cross-burning man. He was still yelling.

“Let’s talk about this,” began Father Frank. “What’s your name?”

“None of your business.”

“I told the police what you did, nothing more. You were taunting me by burning a paper cross.”

“Yeah, yeah. Ain’t nobody gonna back up that story. No one. I ought to pull you outa this piece of junk and beat your face in right now.” The man turned redder with each new threat.

Father Frank’s breathing and heart had slowed down, but the adrenalin was still pumping, and he was angry at being run off the road. Still, he tried to remain calm.

“In light of three churches being burned in the last ten days, what you did was uncalled for and, frankly, pretty stupid.”

“Maybe them churches needed to be burned. Maybe they got what they had comin’ to ’em. Maybe more of them do-good­ers need to fry. Maybe your church’ll be next, huh? How would you like that? Maybe you needs to be taught a lesson.”

The man’s threat to Prince of Peace was like a punch in the stomach for Father Frank.

“Shall I get out and let you try it?”  He had had about enough of this yelling maniac.

The guy stood over six feet and probably outweighed the priest by fifty pounds. But as out of condition as the guy looked, Father Frank was sure he could handle the fat man. One good punch to his belly and the man would be out of it.

The man sneered. “Why don’t you do that? Give me a chance to stomp your butt into the dirt.”

Despite the challenge, Father Frank noticed the man continued to lean his considerable weight on the car door, mak­ing it impossible for the priest to get out.

What am I doing? I’m a man of God, supposed to promote peace and forgiveness. Turn the other cheek. I’m letting him dic­tate things. Not good.

“Okay. We both have gotten a little excited. Let’s just back away and forget this happened.”

“What I thought. Sissy priest ain’t got the guts to settle it man to man. ’Fraid he’ll get his pretty face messed up. Maybe you ain’t even a man. You run and hide behind the cops. Next time we meet, I’m gonna put a fist in your face.”

The man slapped his hand against the door, let out a roar, and stomped off. He slammed the door on his truck so hard, the glass fell out, which started him screaming and cussing again.

Father Frank carefully backed his car out of the shallow ditch and drove off as the man struggled to put the glass back in place.

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.

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