The Movie is Here in Thunder Bay. Don't Miss it.

The Movie is Here  in Thunder Bay. Don't Miss it.
Indian Horse, the movie based on the book by Richard Wagamese

Sunday, May 4, 2008

THE GRAND SILENCE, by James Robert Farrell

This is an excerpt from the upcoming mystery The Grand Silence by Thunder Bay author James Robert Farrell
The Confessor has been called back to the U.S. and his old alma mater by a former classmate - now rector of the place - in order to investigate the death of a student found skewered with a ceremonial sword in a tunnel beneath the Main Chapel. The death had been quickly labeled a suicide. And while the police and Church authorities may have wished to leave it at that, the conscientious rector was not - fearful of ordaining a murderer. We pick up the story as Tom O'Neale travels back to a place he never thought to see again.

If there’s anything I love more than traveling, it’s traveling on someone else’s dime. So, I really should have enjoyed my flight more than I did.

Maybe it was because I kept going over the very real dangers I could see ahead. Or maybe I was too busy plotting the devious means I’d have to employ to avoid them.

In any case, deception seemed the perfect way to celebrate my return to St. Andrew’s By The Lake Seminary. After all, it’s how I began life there.

On that first day long ago, there’d been mandatory auditions for the school choir. And having heard through the grapevine that membership in the choir meant long hours of rehearsal (instead of long hours of recreation) and having been warned of the quirky and dictatorial personality of the Choirmaster, I was determined to fail that test decisively.

In fact, I made such a dog’s breakfast of “The Star Spangled Banner” that I nearly reduced the Choirmaster to tears.

“Sake!” he cried (which was as close as he ever got to swearing). Then he shut his eyes, covered his ears and screamed, “Are you completely tone deaf?!”

This time, of course, I’d be lying my way into the place... practicing deception to solve a case almost no one wanted me to solve - not the police, not the Church authorities, perhaps not even Ted himself.

In my days at St. Andrew’s, Church and State had enjoyed an unholy alliance.

I can remember being pulled over once by an officer for failing to signal a turn, fully expecting to get a ticket. But as soon as I produced my license, the cop spotted my seminary ID. And suddenly, everything changed.

He handed back my license with a smile and said, "Now, you be sure to be more careful in the future, son. And say one for me. OK?”

It took me a moment to realize he wasn’t kidding.

Demographics and police methods might have changed, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that pockets of that old collaboration still existed. And that wasn’t good news for anybody trying to conduct an independent investigation into a case so potentially sensitive to both Church and State.

So, I knew enough to expect a reception committee when I arrived at the terminal... other than the driver Ted had promised me, that is. And I knew I had to avoid them at all costs!

But even if I was able to do that, it would only mean side-stepping one hazard to walk into another. Church authorities may no longer have had absolute power over me, as they once had; but I was moving onto their turf to dig for skeletons in their back yard. And who could tell what a conscientious digger might unearth?!

My own position on the subject of religion has always been the same: “Live and let live.” And I've never made apologies for being cynical about capital “R” Religions. But at least, I’m fair about it. I’m cynical about them all - even while I respect people’s right to believe the damnedest things.

For the next little while, though, my motto would have to be “Stay alert1" to stay alive.

Call me paranoid, but the people involved directly or indirectly in the death of Charlie Willis had vital personal interests to protect. And I felt certain they were capable of using whatever influence they had to make life, at very least, very difficult for me - and Ted, as well.

And, of course, there was the murderer.

In a close-knit religious community, where secrets are hard to keep at the best of times, this killer had managed to stay completely undetected for weeks. That could only mean one of three things: he was diabolically clever; or he was a dangerous zealot who’d found some way of rationalizing his unspeakable deed; or worst of all, he was a killer with powerful friends.

I was trying to decide which of those I’d prefer, when the flaps were lowered and we began to drop through the blanket of wet, gray wool that covered the entire metropolitan area.

When we finally got beneath it, I found myself staring down at a virutal sea of graves... the cemetary just next to St. Andy's.

I pressed my nose against the window so as not to miss my first glimpse in decades of the spiritual enclave where I’d grown up. And as I did, the headstones gave way to a ball diamond, a golf course and then the lake.

I’d been the first student to ever ask to fish in that lake. But there’d be no time for fishing now.

On the far shore, I spotted a familiar string of red-brick, mock-Georgian buildings, stationed symmetrically along the highest point of land, elegantly framed by the Grand Mall and dominated by the stately Main Chapel.

Flaps went to full, and the rumble beneath my feet told me the landing gear had dropped. And for an instant, it seemed as if we'd been skewered in mid-air by some invisible tractor beam from the Chapel’s spire. And in that instant, I was swept by the strangest fear.

I worried that some arcane power had lured me back to this place with Charlie’s death, only to end my unwelcome quest for his killer in a burning pile of aircraft wreckage. (After all, life is perfectly capable of that kind of Gothic irony.)

But we didn’t crash. So, I gathered up my notes and returned my seat and tray table to the upright position - like a good boy. And when we de-planed, I made sure I was as near as I could get to the middle of the line of exiting passengers. No need to make things easy for my reception committee!

And as I climbed the ramp, sure enough, there they were - standing on either side of the terminal doors: two plainclothes detectives (sergeants, I surmised) scanning the herd and looking to cull me out.

I wondered if they were there officially or had taken on the job without the knowledge or approval of their higher-ups. And I had to wonder what kind of description of me they had.

Had I been doing the briefing, I know what I’d have said.

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