Monday, March 16, 2009

Deadly Wrong excerpt by Victor J Banis

In this excerpt from Deadly Wrong by Victor J Banis, Stanley has come to the town of Bear Mountain at the request of an old friend, who believes her brother is innocent of the manslaughter charge that has been brought against him. The authorities believe the death of Donnie McIntosh, the town queer, was an accident, plain and simple; but Stanley has begun to think that it was murder.

Deadly Wrong
MLR Press (February 1, 2009)


Libby's gallery was closed, though he saw lights in the rear and in the apartment above, indicating she was there. He paused on the sidewalk outside. She'd said she had some work to do, hadn't she? He knew that, by all rights, he should ring the bell by the door, tell her that he had changed his mind, that he wasn't the man for this job.

It was true, he had solved one murder in San Francisco, but with sheer luck and Tom Danzel's help. He wasn't an idiot. He knew perfectly well that he wasn't a real homicide detective. He had neither the temperament nor the equipment, mental, emotional or physical. He owed it to Libby to tell her that, now, before wasting anymore of her time or her hopes.

And yet, he couldn't stop thinking of the boy who had died, despised and ridiculed by the very men who used him for their selfish pleasure and their convenience, cared for by no one but the young man accused of killing him, who probably loved his friend more than either of them had ever grasped.

Little Donnie McIntosh hadn't just been murdered, either. He had been robbed—of his innocence, of his dignity, of any chance of happiness. Now the authorities wanted to rob him even of justice.

How could he walk away from that? Because if he did, no one was going to step up to the plate in his wake? Not just one life lost then, but two—because almost certainly, Carl Hunter would never recover from the damage of being convicted of Donnie's death, of having killed his friend.

He walked on, torn. At the far end of the street, before it turned and became highway again, he found a little church. Not a mission, he knew that the Camino Real hadn't extended in this direction, up into the mountains, but an old church, nonetheless, and interesting looking.

In San Francisco, the roughly carved wooden doors would have been locked for security purposes, but when he tried them, these opened with only a faint squeak of protest. He went in. The interior was small and Spartan, it's plain walls freshly whitewashed. Stained glass windows splashed Technicolor puddles across the floor—amber, vermilion, green. The scent of old candles, of incense, hung about the wood and plaster saints that lurked in little niches in the squat columns.

A feeling of nostalgia descended upon him. At one time he'd attended a church much like this one, and he felt a momentary sense of peace in the silence that hovered as palpably as the potpourri of familiar scents. He paused to look around. Along the wall to the right, candles flickered before an altar to the virgin, and opposite it, a statue of Saint Anthony, with candles of his own, fewer than the virgin's, but still plentiful. A lot of prayers answered, presumably.

Rejoice with me, for I have found that which was lost.

But when he remembered those familiar words, he unexpectedly found himself thinking of what Carl had said about Donnie's abusers: "Even a priest…" The memory brought him up short.

Had Donnie McIntosh come here, seeking solace, to kneel before the Saint of lost causes? Had he found peace here, however fleetingly? Had his prayers been answered, or had he only found himself delivered over to yet another tormentor? Wherever God erects a house of prayer, the Devil always builds a chapel there.

A carpet of vivid red ran down the center aisle, making him think of a dying boy's blood pouring into the sand. He followed the crimson path down to the low rail, carved of pine—probably locally, he thought. Behind a simple altar, a painting of the ascension served as reredos, brave in its heady use of bright colors to achieve a beatific, if not an altogether artistic, effect.

Stanley had heard no one come in or disturb the quiet, but someone cleared his throat behind him and he turned to find a priest watching him from a distance—a small man, remarkably young for his snow white hair, with wide set eyes and a thick lips that gave him a sensual appearance when he smiled.

"Did you wish to make a confession?" His voice had a thick accent. Mexican, Stanley thought, or Spanish.

"Thank you, no." Stanley smiled apologetically. "I'm afraid I'm just an intruding tourist."

"There are no intruders here," the priest said, making a sweeping gesture with one hand. "You're a visitor to Bear Mountain? Perhaps I could give you a tour of our humble church. You were admiring our Saint Anthony. It's quite a lovely one, is it not? It was, how does one say, un don en Dios. Through the auspices, as it were, of a generous worshipper."

Stanley listened politely, his smile fixed, but it was Carl's words, not the priest's, that rang in his ears. Even a priest… Of course, that might have been an exaggeration, Donnie's or Carl's. Or, even if true, there was no reason to suspect it was this particular priest. One read of all those abuses, scandals—but that was surely still only a small number of wayward priests when one considered the overall number.

Still, the sense of peace that he had felt when he first came in had abandoned him and he found that his earlier disquiet had returned in full force.

"Perhaps some other time," he said, starting back up the center aisle. Midway, though, he paused and looked back. "Father, to be frank, I've come to Bear Mountain to look into the death of a young man. Donnie—Donald McIntosh. Did you know him?"

"I knew of him." The smile vanished. A veil seemed to have fallen over the priest's face—or perhaps that was only a trick of the dim light and the flickering candles. And Stanley's imagination.

"Did he come here, to Saint…?" Stanley realized he didn't even know the name of the church.

"To Saint Boromeo's? Perhaps. I can't really say."

"But you never saw him yourself? Never took his confession?"

"No. I never took his confession. Everyone is welcome here regardless, of course. We are here to offer comfort to the weary, and solace to those who are troubled."

Stanley could not help thinking of one who had assuredly been troubled, and who presumably had found no solace here.

"Good night, Father," he said, and turning his back on the motionless priest, followed the red carpet to the vestibule. The wooden doors complained again faintly as he went out.

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