So many church fires that even a burning match gave him the willies. Cleansed by Fire.
May 20, 2013
A VG Serial: Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 16 – 2
Father Frank wandered over to the church, entered and knelt at the back. What did he know? What could he do? His conversation with Georgia, while giving some insight into Ward’s anger, certainly didn’t provide any motive for arson. Earl, his prime candidate because of his probable connection with drugs, didn’t seem to have a motive either. He hadn’t been in town long enough. But he turned up at the fires.
B.D. claimed to know nothing about the arsons, but Father Frank didn’t believe him. To what extent he was involved remained a mystery. B.D. used drugs, Father Frank could almost guarantee that. And he knew first hand that B.D. could be violent. But where was the connection to the fires? It wasn’t as if there was money to be made burning a church. One thing Father Frank did believe was that B.D. knew more than he admitted.
Then, there was the man who burned the paper cross, now on the police radar. But neither Father Frank nor Mike knew the man’s name, or anything else about him.
Sammie could provide some answers. Perhaps all the answers. But he wasn’t telling much. And, to Father Frank’s frustration, what Sammie did tell, the priest couldn’t use. He couldn’t even direct Mike to talk to Sammie.
Is there something I can do to help stop the destruction of your churches? Father Frank prayed. He put his head on his hands, which rested on the back of the pew in front of him. He closed his eyes.
What can I do? What can I do?
He awoke with a jolt. His hands had slipped off the pew, and he barely caught himself before he fell.
Tonight, I must get more sleep.
Father Frank decided not to cook lunch but grabbed a sandwich at the Dairy Queen instead. While he was sitting there, Dan Zimmerman came in and, after ordering, slipped into the booth beside the priest.
“Thanks again for the use of your truck,” said Father Frank.
Dan waved his hand in dismissal. “Glad to do it.” He sighed. “Things are getting worse, it seems.”
“How’s that?” asked Father Frank.
“Well, we not only had a case of arson last night, but also a murder. You didn’t hear?”
“Oh, yes. I did. Actually, I’m trying not to think about it. Too depressing.”
“Well, you might want to be thinking about it. The way things are going, it’s only a matter of time before Prince of Peace gets the torch.”
The priest opened his mouth to object.
Dan held up his hand. “I’m not a pessimist. I’m a realist. Three church fires in, what, less than two weeks? The slashed tires might have been a warning, a wake-up call. Did the police find out anything about that?”
“No. At least, they haven’t told me anything.”
“I’d call and ask them.” He stood up as the waitress called his number. “Could have been the first salvo.”
Father Frank liked Dan. Right now, however, he wished Dan had chosen Subway for lunch today. The priest looked out of the window in time to see a man strike a match and place the flickering flame under his cigarette. Father Frank looked away and focused on the table top. Even a burning match gave him the willies.
He had considered the possibility of Prince of Peace getting caught in the wave of arsons. He just didn’t need to be reminded of it, especially right after a person had been killed. He decided maybe a pecan fudge Blizzard might help bring him out of his depression.
Father Frank stopped at the police station and found his way to Mike’s desk.
“Making any progress?”
Father Frank sensed a mild annoyance in the detective’s tone, but he ignored it. “Dan Zimmerman said I ought to ask you if anything had turned up on the tire slashing. So, I’m asking.”
“Nothing. We’ve got so little to go on, I don’t expect to find anything. On that one, we just have to get lucky.”
“Yeah. The guy tells someone, who tells someone, who tells us.”
“Not too likely.”
The detective rubbed his nose. “Happens. Guy has too much to drink. Or wants to brag, maybe impress some girl. Then, it’s ‘Did you know that Wayne slashed Father Frank’s tires?’ and first thing you know, it makes its way to us.”
“Same thing on the fires?”
“Hasn’t happened yet. With three fires, good chance there’ll be some buzz out there. But so far, we haven’t heard even a whisper. Right now, we’re going on the theory that all three were set by the same person.”
“Same M.O. They happen about the same time of night. They’ve all been started using diesel as the accelerant. All three Baptist. Even the point of origin is similar.”
The priest sighed softly. “Except last night’s included a victim. Have you identified the body?”
The detective nodded. “Just got it. Lab finally managed to extract some usable finger prints. Turns out, he had a few run-ins with the law. Nothing too major. But enough to get his prints on file. Joseph Josephson. Ever hear of him?”
“Went by Joe.”
“Doesn’t ring a bell. Where’d he live?”
“Out in the county. Road 9289. We’ve got one of the sheriff’s guys checking on it, see if there’s anybody at that address. That’s about all we know.”
The priest ran his tongue around his teeth, hesitant to ask his question. So, he made it into a statement instead. “I’m sure you asked Reverend Anderson if Josephson was a member of his congregation.”
Mike smiled. “Of course. Believe it or not, we know what we are doing.”
“So, why was he in the church?”
Mike shrugged. “Maybe he was the arsonist and stayed too long. M.E. hasn’t given us cause of death yet. Probably today. When we know what he was doing in the church, we’ll probably solve the case.”
“How about the big guy from The Corral? The one who burned the paper cross.”
“Nothing on him so far. I went out there but nobody was talking. Sent another detective out, dressed down to the place. He didn’t find out anything either. Probably made him as soon as he walked in the door. I imagine after my visit, the word went out. I doubt we’ll see him there again, at least not any time soon.”
Father Frank thought for a minute. “I could—”
“No, you couldn’t. Stay away from there. Leave this to us.” He punctuated this with a definitive jerk of his head. “Now, go. I’ve got to get some work done.”
It seemed to Father Frank that he was spending all his time being conflicted about one thing or another. Now the question was, should he call Georgia or not? In the end, he decided he had little to lose by asking her. He picked up the telephone and dialed.
“Hi, Georgia. Getting ready for your date tonight?”
“Just going to dinner.”
“Still a date.”
“Did you call to give me a hard time, or did you have something else in mind, Father?”
“I’m sorry. Just couldn’t resist. I like both you and Mike. I hope it works out.”
“Works out?” Her voice rose an octave. “This is dinner. A dinner date, if you insist. Nothing more. Now, I do have other things to do, so if you have anything else, get on with it.” She was not easily cowed.
“Have you ever heard of a Joe Josephson?”
Georgia said nothing for a moment. “Not that I can remember off hand. Why?”
“That’s the name of the man killed in the fire last night.”
“Oh,” Georgia said. “Does he, did he, live in Pine Tree?”
“No. Out in the county. I think Mike said county road 9289. They’re checking to see if there’s anybody there who might know him.”
“Hmm. Not a member of that church?”
“I’ll ask around.”
“Let me know if you find out anything.” He paused just a beat. “And have a good dinner tonight.”
“I will—ah, let you know, if I find out anything, that is. And I won’t tolerate any questions about how my dinner goes.”
“I wouldn’t think of asking,” Father Frank said in his most innocent tone of voice.
He hung up the phone, started to get up, then sat back down. He looked up a number in the parish directory and punched in the numbers.
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.