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IN MAY 1941, A HERMIT NAMED RUSTIN PARR TOLD POLICE HE MURDERED SEVEN CHILDREN IN BURKITTSVILLE, MARYLAND.
BUT THE NIGHT BEFORE HE WAS HANGED, PARR TOLD HIS PRIEST AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT STORY.
NOW NEARLY SIXTY YEARS LATER THE DETAILS OF RUSTIN PARR'S FINAL CONFESSION CAN BE REVEALED.
It was the most shocking crime imaginable: the kidnapping and brutal murder of seven innocent children. The particulars of Rustin Parr's crime made the case even more horrifying: the ritual nature of the killings, the strange symbols carved into the children's bodies, Parr's revelation that voices in his head told him to commit his foul deeds. Some whispered that Parr's crime was just the latest in a series of murders attributed to Maryland's infamous Blair Witch. But when Parr went to the gallows, all agreed that justice had been served; evil had been put to rest. All, that is, but one man.
Dominick Cazale was the priest who heard Parr's confession. He heard Rustin, a man who before the killings was generally acknowledged as the gentlest of souls, talk about the bodies found in his basement, and about Kyle Brody, the eleven-year-old sole "survivor" of the killings. What Parr told Cazale that night was a shockingly different account of what happened to those seven children. Yet the words that passed between the two men remained a mystery..until now.
Read an Excerpt
It didn't take me more than ten minutes to know I was in trouble.
As I said before, I'm a city boy. Set me down at nine in the morning in Miami or Baltimore or any big metropolis, for that matter and by lunchtime I'll not only have found the best lasagna in a twenty-mile radius, I'll be on my second helping.
I can speak the language, is what I'm saying. But in the great wide open...
Well, maybe Davy Crockett could navigate without a compass or find an old Indian path by looking at the way the grass bent in the wind, but the only way I could get around was by paying close attention to the big blue splotches of paint splattered on the trees along the trail.
My usual routine was, pick up the trail at Black Rock Road and follow it into the forest for maybe fifteen minutes. That's how long it took to come to my little hideaway a patch of grass on a gentle rise, with a nice view of the town below. I'd sit, unpack my lunch, and eat, hoping for a little wildlife to come along: a deer, a rabbit, even a squirrel would do. I'd share a little of my meal, then pack up and head back to my car.
Only this afternoon, as I walked down the rise, it didn't level off. It just kept going down. The trees got a little taller, the undergrowth a little thicker, and at some point, the blue splotches of paint vanished.
And then I came to a stream. In the half dozen times I'd been out in these woods, I had never seen a stream before.
"This is not good," I recall telling myself.
I hiked back up the hill, following the exact route I'd taken down, looking for those blue splotches of paint. Only when I got to the top, nothing was even remotely familiar about the terrain.
I took a deep breath.
Panic, I knew, was not an appropriate response. It wasn't that big a forest: I'd seen maps. All I had to do was get my bearings, and I'd be fine.
My biggest problem was that I was equipped for a picnic, not a hike.
I had no water in my knapsack. The first time I had told him I was going out in the forest, Burt Atkins had marched me into the general store (which, it turned out, he owned as well), and pulled a canteen down from the shelf
"Buy it," he said.
I checked the price and told him that on a cleric's wages, a canteen was not an option at this time.
"I'll buy it for you, then," he said, and pulled out a wad of bills from his pocket.
I refused: the sin of false pride, in retrospect.
But now that I thought of that canteen, and the water that I didn't have, I remembered something else about water that John Flynn had told me once while we were hiking: "If you get lost, find running water and follow it. The towns in these hills grew up around the streams and rivers: they'll lead you back to people."
So I hiked back down the hill and started following the stream.
Going back to the stream also had one immediate plus: it gave me a ready source of drinking water. Which I took advantage of more than once as the hours passed and the shadows lengthened and the forest around me showed no signs of petering out.
Flynn had shown me a map of the Black Hills, and I wouldn't have thought I could've hiked for so long and not come to the edge of them. Still, not the end of the world. It was summer, warm enough even at night that, even if worse came to worst and I had to sleep out in the woods, I would be nothing more than a little sore when I made my way back to civilization, as I surely would the next day.
I undid my Roman collar, unbuttoned my shirt, and set off again.
My stomach was the part of me most upset at the thought of not returning home: it had been hours since lunch, and I had little hope in my ability to find anything remotely edible in the wild.
But just as I was getting ready to give up and seek shelter for the night (and I would have been asleep in minutes, my body exhausted from a full day's worth of hiking), the stream took a sharp bend to the left, the undergrowth suddenly cleared, and there, before me, I saw a man.
He was squatting down on a huge, flat rock that jutted out into the stream, his back to me, his head bobbing slowly up and down.
At that moment I realized that the constant hum and whir of the forest the buzz of the insects, the chatter of the animals, the crackle of the leaves and brush underfoot had somehow stopped. And the only noise I was hearing came from the man before me, a kind of repetitive chanting. Though I strained, I could not make out a word of what the man was saying, nor could I tell whether he was even speaking English.
I watched for a moment, unsure whether to interrupt what he was doing or continue lurking. He shifted position now, so that I saw him in profile.
I was too far away to see his face, but I could see now that he had long hair, almost down to his shoulders (and remember, this was 1939, a time when long hair on men was virtually unknown), a full beard, and something a pouch, or a purse of some sort hanging from a cord around his neck.
He reached down into that pouch now and pulled something out. A handful of sticks, I saw, with some string wrapped around them. He took the sticks and the string and began tying or untying, I couldn't tell which at this distance them together. When he finished, he leaned over the rock and threw them into the water.
Just then, a shadow passed across the rock a bird of some kind flying over, I couldn't quite tell from where. The man started.
His sudden movement, after such a long period of inactivity, startled me as well. I took a step backward.
Behind me, something growled.
I turned. The biggest German shepherd I'd ever seen in my life was a foot away, staring directly at me.
I like dogs, I really do. But this one looked ready to make a meal out of me.
Then it barked once and took a step toward me.
I turned my head again, gradually this time (I did not want the dog to misinterpret any movement I made), and saw the man making his way down from the rock.
"Don't worry, Ranger's bark is worse than his bite," the man said as he reached us. "Especially if he thinks I'm in trouble."
"Believe me," I said, "I'm no trouble."
"Well, then. That's good." He held out his hand and smiled at me. "I'm Rustin. Rustin Parr."
High on the list of questions all the newspaper reporters and book writers and television people always wanted to ask me was if I could tell Parr was a killer when I met him. I never answered a one of them, not until I spoke to that Carrazco fellow, and even then, I couldn't bring myself to tell the whole truth about Rustin.
And I out-and-out lied to him about the Brody family.
But I think I'm getting ahead of myself.
I will say this now about Rustin Parr; from the very moment we shook hands, I knew I had nothing to fear from him. He had a simple, guileless manner, a ready smile, and such an obvious affection for his dog that I instinctively liked him.
A few days after the incident in the woods, when I told Burt Atkins about meeting Parr (when, in fact, I walked into the general store to finally buy that canteen), he asked me how Rustin was doing. They hadn't seen him around town for so long, he explained, that people were afraid he might have died.
I was in a good mood that day, which is why I didn't ask Burt the question which immediately popped into my head: Why hadn't anyone simply gone out into the woods to check how he was?
Instead, I told him that Rustin seemed fine.
"Good." He smiled. "I worry about that boy sometimes."
Atkins's attitude toward Parr, I found out, pretty much mirrored the entire town's; they didn't like him hanging around, but at the same time they wanted to make sure he was all right. I heard a rumor that the Parr family had once been important in Burkittsville, which might have explained that.
Whoever and however important his kin had been in town, Parr and the people of Burkittsville interacted hardly at all. It wasn't that he was retarded, or stupid, or bad-tempered (accusations which all made their way into the press over the years); he just didn't see much sense in a lot of the rules society expected people to abide by. Society, in turn, wanted nothing to do with him.
The people of Burkittsville, of course, did find a use for Parr later.
"You like to fish, Mr. Cazale?" Parr asked. He picked up a flat stone from the ground and threw it sidearm into the water, where it sank.
I shook my head. "Never done it, not even once."
"Really? That's what most people come out here to do." He found another flat stone and threw it. This one skipped twice before sinking. "So what brings you out to this part of the woods?"
"Well, to be quite honest, I'm lost."
"Well that explains it, I guess."
The dog barked.
"All right, boy, all right." Parr walked past me and ruffled the fur on the dog's head. "We'll get going. He wants dinner. That dog is spoiled rotten. Eats twice a day, and canned dog food. What do you think about that? A whole forest full of food, and he likes the canned stuff best. Takes all kinds, I guess."
He looked to me. "Are you hungry as well, Mr. Cazale? Would you like to come back home and eat with us?"
I smiled. "That's the best offer I've had all day, Mr. Parr."
"Good. Follow me, then."
As he turned, the pouch I'd glimpsed earlier swung out from behind his back, where it had been dangling, and I got my first good look at it.
It was made from an animal's paw: the claws several inches long were still attached. They looked sharp, they looked dangerous. Whatever kind of animal the paw had once belonged to a bear, or a wolf, or some other large animal would have been a formidable opponent.
"What do you do, Mr. Cazale?" Parr called over his shoulder. He was leading us straight into the heart of the underbrush at a brisk walk: a man, clearly, who didn't need blue paint to find his way through the forest.
"Actually, it's Father Cazale. I'm a priest."
"You don't say. A priest."
"That's right. What about yourself, Mr. Parr? What do you do?"
"Oh, whatever it takes, you know. Some odd jobs in town to make some money, a little gardening, do a little fishing down in the creek. Watch out here," he said as we passed through a particularly thick part of the brush. "These branches got thorns on 'em: they'll snap back and take your eye out."
"You coming from the Burkittsville side of the forest?"
"I used to live in Burkittsville myself, but" he shook his head "got a little tired of being around so many people. And they all got cars, and radios now what an awful racket."
I wondered what Rustin Parr would make of downtown Baltimore on a Friday night.
"So I came out to the forest. Been here for a few years now, gotten to know my way around."
"It's beautiful out here."
"Oh, yes, sir. But it can be a little dangerous at times. Me and Ranger here" and suddenly I saw the dog at his side again: it must have been trotting along silently the whole time "we keep an eye on things."
The last few minutes we'd been on a steady climb upward. Now Parr pointed ahead of us, to the top of the rise.
"There's my house." He looked down. "You want some food, fella?"
Ranger barked once and took off like a bullet.
Parr laughed. "That dog loves to eat."
After dinner, Parr led me back to Black Rock Road and my car. He had no trouble finding it, even in the dark. I felt stupid when we got there: it only took forty-five minutes to walk from his house. I must have gone in a huge circle for a good portion of the day.
I can't remember much about that meal, or what Parr and I talked about through dinner. I do remember the house, though. Parr told me he'd done a great deal of the work on it himself. I told him he could be making a good living as a carpenter.
But when I think of that place in the woods now, I don't see it as it was that night. I see it as a ruin, a hole in the ground, with nothing left to it anymore save the stones of the foundation. The way Mary and I saw it last month, when after so many years I finally went back to Burkittsville to make my peace with the past.
The past, though, wasn't through with me just yet.
The next morning, when we woke up in the Holiday Inn in Frederick, Mary was already at the kitchen table, with the sleeve of her sweater rolled up.
"I must have brushed against poison ivy, or sumac, or something like that," she said. "Look at this rash."
More and more, I have trouble sleeping. It's not just Mary, it's the weight of my entire life, crashing in on me. I suppose that's why I'm writing this journal now: to try and make sense of it all. Or perhaps that's not for me to do: perhaps it's for you who are reading this to understand all that has happened to me.
As my father once said: the wheel will turn.
Does that make any sense?
Mary seems to be living in her bed: it's all she can do to get up and go to the bathroom. She has fallen into a state of apathy about her condition, no longer amused at being the Illustrated Woman, as she once called herself, whose fate is writ large on her skin.
I, on the other hand, seem to be living in the past.
It is March of 1940. Monsignor Fannon has granted me a week's leave from the parish to go back to Baltimore, where my brother Joe is dying.
Vince, the eldest of us, always knew he was going to be an actor. I, in the middle, was destined (at least according to my mother) to become a priest.
And Joe, the baby of the family?
He tried out a number of different vocations: in March of 1940, he was a patrolman working the nastiest part of downtown Baltimore when he walked in on a liquor-store holdup.
He killed both of the would-be robbers, but one of them got off a shot as he went down that perforated Joe's stomach. Despite the doctors' best efforts, infection set in. By the time I arrived at the hospital, Joe was in critical condition with a raging fever. They were sure he wasn't going to last the night.
I found my mother and Kathleen Shaughnessy (who Joe always used to say was the girl he should have married) sitting in chairs at the waiting room in St. Vincent's, bawling their eyes out. When she saw me, my mother jumped up and hugged me so tight I felt the vertebrae in my back crack.
"Easy, Ma." I wrapped my arms around her. "How is he?"
"Not good, Dom. I'm so glad you're here."
Kathleen stepped forward now and spoke. "He's on tour with a theater company in Canada. We haven't been able to reach him yet."
"Dom," my mother said, "you remember Kathleen Shaughnessy?"
"Sure. How are you, Kathleen?"
You're going to think ill of me for the next part.
Kathleen Shaugnessy (Mary Kathleen Shaughnessy, if you want her full name) and I had a bit of history.
Not much: she was a couple years younger than me while we were growing up, and it wasn't until I was in my last year of high school, when I already knew I was going off to seminary, that I first noticed her. At, of all things, a Knights of Columbus dance.
I should break off here to say it's a mistake to think that priests don't think of sex, or that they've somehow found a way to eliminate the urge from their systems. It's just that they have assigned it a lower priority in their lives, knowing that the pleasures of the flesh pale in intensity next to the fulfillment they are promised when they reach the kingdom of God.
Still, at times, your priorities do slip.
When mine did, they had a habit of wandering back to that K of C dance, and to a couple of dances Kathleen Shaughnessy and I shared. Bing Crosby was what I suppose you could call a teen idol back then, and his big song at the time was "Please." Not a slow dance, but not a fast one either it called for the two of us to lay hands on each other, and I recall leading Kathleen nervously around the floor, sweating profusely the entire time. A decade after the fact, I still couldn't listen to any of Bing's songs, or watch his movies, without thinking of her.
As I said, you're going to think ill of me, but looking at Kathleen as she stood there in the hospital waiting room, her dark hair cascading off her shoulders, the soft skin at the hollow of her throat, I could hear Der Bingle sing again.
Thankfully, that moment passed as did Joe's time in the hospital. He made a remarkable recovery, so much so that two days after I arrived, he was back on the ward and making jokes with me about putting in a good word for the Senators with the man upstairs. I knew it was safe to leave then and said my good-byes to him and Kathleen, who as I recall was wearing a flowered summer frock that, for the time, was very low cut.
It could have been my imagination, but my mother seemed in an awful hurry to get me off of that ward.
The point being that when I climbed back aboard the bus bound for Frederick, I was a little more preoccupied than usual with the female of the species.
The attractive, dark-haired lady who took the seat across from me didn't help things either. She had on a gray skirt that came to just below her knee; as she reached up and placed her suitcase into the overhead luggage rack, the skirt rose up her leg just a little higher.
She had very nice legs.
I opened my newspaper and turned to the sports section.
The Yankees were still supposedly being sold to Jim Farley and Jesse Jones: Joe D.'s brother Vince had been traded to Pittsburgh, and Hank Greenberg was starting to clobber the ball at an unbelievable pace.
It was a full news day elsewhere in the paper as well, which kept me occupied for much of the ride.
At times, however, I snuck a glance at the woman across the aisle out of the corner of my eye. Still, I didn't even realize that's when the bus pulled out of Bartonsville, heading toward Frederick, the last stop on the line, that we were the only two passengers left on board.
Until she turned to me and said, "You must be Father Cazale."
"I must be," was all I could think of to say. I hadn't intended to be funny, but it was nice to see her smile. She had a nice smile.
She laughed. "Burt Atkins said you had a sense of humor."
"Let me guess: you're from Burkittsville."
She nodded. "I am. And I'm sorry we haven't had a chance to meet until now. I've heard so much about you." She held out a hand. "Caroline Brody. My friends call me Carol."
I am ashamed and a little abashed to admit that virtually all the Latin I learned in seminary has gone to the great memory graveyard in the sky, I still remember every little detail about that bus ride with Caroline Brody.
The blouse she wore (white, with red bands around the neck and wrists), her hairstyle (a Jean Arthur-inspired bob), and above all, the excitement in her voice as she talked about her week at the twenty-fifth annual Baltimore tulip show, where she'd won an award for something called a yellow "moonlight" tulip.
"A certificate of recognition," she said. "Which is not the same as a ribbon, but still..."
"It's wonderful. Congratulations."
"Thank you. My husband thinks I spend too much time in the garden, so it will be nice to show him the payoff for all that hard work."
As we talked, I learned more about the tulip: it had a four-inch bulb and was, in her opinion, inferior to the one she'd entered last year, which had received no award from the judges. I learned more about Carol: she'd inherited her passion for gardening from her mother, she and Michael had been high school sweethearts, they'd once shared their house with Michael's brothers, until the mining accident.
Talk of brothers led to discussion of my own family, and what had brought me to Baltimore, which brought us around to the benefits of growing up in the big city versus growing up in the country. She was looking forward to raising her children in Burkittsville.
"Michael wants us to move to Pittsburgh, though," she said. "He's got a friend who's assistant manager at a foundry up there. If the job comes through, it'd be a lot more money for us." She shook her head then. "But I don't want to leave Burkittsville; we've got a lot of friends there. And I don't want to uproot Kyle just now he's had a hard year at school."
"Does Michael know how you feel?"
"Yes. But he says we'll make friends in Pittsburgh easily enough all of us." She sighed. "I know it's hard for him here: every day he spends in the mine, every time he walks down the street, he sees another memory. It's not good," she said in a voice grown suddenly distant, and it was almost as if she were talking to herself, rather than confiding in me. "It's not good at all."
I wondered, exactly, what wasn't good. But I didn't want to press the point: so I changed the subject. "Tell me about your daughter."
Carol's face lit up.
We were deep into a discussion on the difference between boy and girl babies her sister in-law had a little boy about the same age as Carol's Janine, which was where her little girl had been staying while she was away when we pulled into the station at Frederick. I helped Carol get her suitcase down from the overhead rack and walked her to the parking lot outside the station.
"I can give you a ride back to Burkittsville, if you like," I told her. "I'm going back to the parish to pick up Monsignor Fannon's car."
"That's nice of you, Father. But Michael is picking me up here." As she spoke, she scanned the parking lot. "I'm sure he'll be along shortly."
But when I drove past a couple hours later, she was still sitting on a bench out in front of the station.
"What happened to your husband?" I asked.
Her arms were folded across her chest. She looked angry.
"I'm sure I don't know," she said in a way that made me think she knew exactly where he was. "Is your offer of a ride still good?"
"Of course." I got out and opened the door for her, because in those days it was the kind of thing a man did for a woman, even if the man was a priest and the woman married. At least, I thought so.
Carol Brody looked a little surprised at the gesture but as I shut the door behind her, I caught a glimpse of her smiling. As I said before...it was a nice smile.
We continued talking in the same vein as before, all the way into Burkittsville and down First Street right up to the front door of her house.
The porch light was on.
Kyle Brody was sitting on the steps, his arm (it looked like, at first glance) wrapped around a big German shepherd.
Next to him, with a wooden cigar box on his lap, sat Rustin Parr.
Copyright © 2000 by Artisan Pictures Inc.
Parr rose to his feet to greet us as we climbed out of the car. "Father. And you must be Mrs. Brody."
Carol wasn't having any small talk. "What on earth is going on here?" she asked, stepping in front of me. "Who are you? What are you doing with my boy? Kyle?"
Kyle looked up at the sound of his mother's voice.
"Ma!" he cried out. "Ma, help me!"
I hadn't seen the boy in several months. He'd gone through a major growth spurt in that time, crossing over that indefinable line that separates little boys from young men, a little early perhaps, but given the size of his father, that was understandable.
You could see the change in his face, which, even through the dirt-stained tear tracks that covered it, was thinner, with a new angle and shape to it; in the breadth of his shoulders; and in the length of his arms. But most of all, you could see it in his eyes. When we'd first met, traces of a child's curiosity were still in them. Now, those traces were gone, replaced by something a little colder, more calculating.
But perhaps, knowing what was to come as I do, I am being a little unfair, projecting too much on the little boy who sat there on the porch steps without moving, crying for his mother.
"Kyle!" Carol called again. "What is it?"
The boy still didn't move. In a second, I saw why.
Parr's dog had hold of Kyle's shirtsleeve in his mouth.
Carol saw it at the same time I did. "Oh my Lord," she said. "That dog "
Parr made a clucking noise with his teeth; a split second later Ranger let go of the boy's sleeve.
Kyle ran to his mother's arms. "He bit me. The dog bit me!"
"He didn't bite you," Parr said. "He bit your shirt. And that was only to keep you from running away again."
I stepped forward now. "What's going on here?" I said quietly.
"I got to show this to the boy's father," Parr said quietly. He held up the wooden box.
"He's not home?" Carol asked. She turned to Kyle. "Where's your father gone, Kyle? Do you know?"
Kyle shrugged, wiping away his tears. "He said he was going to Frederick, to pick you up at the bus station."
"He wasn't there. Never mind." I could hear the anger in Carol's voice. She turned to Parr. "What is it you want, sir?"
"Like I said, ma'am, I want to show this to your husband. I want to show him what your son was doing in the woods."
"Ma, that man's lying, whatever he says is just a stinkin' lie." Kyle set his lips in a pout.
"Hush, Kyle. Didn't you hear what I just said, sir? My husband's not home. If it's got something to do with my son, you can show it to me."
"No, ma'am." Parr sounded definite. "I can't do that. I'll wait to see Mr. Brody."
"Perhaps you can show this thing to me, whatever it is," I offered.
Parr shook his head. "No, Father. It's not for your eyes either. I'll just wait, Mrs. Brody, if it's all right with you." He sat down again on the porch steps.
"It is not all right with me," Carol said. "I want you off my property. You've frightened my son half to death!"
"All right." Parr nodded and stood back up. He walked to the edge of the Brody's yard, Ranger following a step behind, and sat right down on the road. Carol glared at him. Then, without taking her eyes off Parr, she said to me in a voice loud enough that Parr couldn't miss it, "Father, would you please run over to Town Hall and get the sheriff?"
"Already tried that, ma'am," Parr called back. "No one's there."
We stood locked in place for a moment. I was going to suggest that Rustin come back to the motel with me and wait for Brody there, when I heard a car approaching down Main Street. It turned onto First and a second later, it pulled into the Brodys' drive.
Michael Brody climbed out, slamming the door behind him.
"What's going on here?"
He was walking a little clumsily, and a second later, I realized why. He was drunk.
"We're waiting for you," Carol said. "I came home and found this man" she pointed to Parr "sitting on our porch with Kyle, who's apparently done something this man will only talk to you about."
"Ma " Kyle said.
"Hush," Carol told him, and that's when it dawned on me that in the entire time since we'd arrived, Carol had not even once asked her son about what he had supposedly done. I wonder now if she didn't already have a good idea of what it was.
Michael turned and noticed Parr for the first time.
"Who the hell are you?"
"Michael!" Carol said. "Watch your language. Father Cazale's here."
"He's heard the word before, haven't you, Father?" Not waiting for an answer, Michael turned back to his wife. "And where the hell were you? I waited at that bus station half the night."
And at a bar the other half, I had no doubt.
"We'll talk about it later," Carol said.
"Excuse me," Parr said. "Mr. Brody, I found your boy in the woods earlier today. I want to show you what he was doing, and then I'll be on my way."
"Show me?" Michael asked. "Why don't you oh, no."
He turned to his son, and I saw the boy visibly shrink back into his mother's arms.
"So help me God, boy, I'll beat you within an inch of your life if you've done it again."
Michael's lips were set in a thin line. He seemed, all at once, to have sobered up.
"Let me see that box," he said to Parr, holding out his hand.
Parr gave it him.
Michael held it a moment, as if summoning up the courage to face what was inside.
I wondered just what it was that Kyle had done before.
Then Brody flipped the box open.
Whatever he saw drained all the color from his face.
From where I stood, all I could see was the inside of the lid, which was covered with red stains.
Brody handed the box back to Parr without a word.
"I'm sorry to have to show you that, sir," said Parr. "I'm even sorrier for those poor animals."
But Brody wasn't listening. He had already turned away and was walking toward his wife and son.
The boy made a whimpering noise and clung tighter to his mother.
"Michael, no." Carol put herself between Kyle and his father, who strode past me now, walking quicker, his anger visibly growing with every step.
"Mr. Brody, don't," I said, laying a hand on his shoulder. He pushed it off.
His face was no longer pale, but red with rage. That color, next to the darker skin on his face and neck where he'd been burned, made him look something other than human, a colossus come to vengeful life.
He brushed Carol aside as if she were a little girl, grabbed hold of Kyle with one arm, and with the other slapped him hard across the face.
"Damn you, boy!" Brody slapped Kyle again. "What the hell's gotten into you?"
Kyle said nothing in response; neither did he whimper or cry out. All traces of the little boy who'd clung to his mother a moment ago were gone: he just stood there and took it, like a man, as his father reached back and slapped him again and again.
I was struck once more by how big the boy had grown; in just a very few years, it was clear to me, Kyle Brody wasn't going to simply stand there and take the punishment his father dished out. He was going to give back as good as he got.
"That's enough, Michael," Carol said, her voice surprisingly calm. "Stop it."
"It's all right, Ma," Kyle said, staring at his father. "It don't hurt."
Which was exactly the wrong thing to say: Michael Brody drew his arm back and backhanded his son full force across the face.
Kyle flew in the air and landed on the ground.
Carol stared at her husband, shock etched on her face. "I said that was enough." She went to Kyle's side and bent over him.
"Leave me alone, Ma," he said, sniffling. Blood was running out of the corner of his mouth; he wiped it away with the back of one hand. "I'm all right."
"Kyle, let me "
"Leave me alone!" he said, his voice quivering.
Carol stood up.
Michael Brody walked into the house and slammed the door behind him.
"Carol," I began, "can I do something to "
"Please leave, Father," she said. "Both of you, please leave us alone."
Parr did as she asked, walking off toward the woods without another word, Ranger trotting along a step behind.
Kyle got up slowly from the ground, anger oozing from his every pore. It traveled along his gaze and finally came to rest on Rustin Parr's retreating back.
Then Kyle turned it on me. "We don't need you around here either, Father."
The way he said it, it sounded like a warning.
Tonight at about eleven, I was reading in bed when Mary screamed and sat bolt upright in bed next to me.
"Oh, Dom." Her eyes were wide with fright. "I had the dream again."
She nodded. I set down my book.
"Only it wasn't quite the same, this time. I was swimming with her, but somehow I was under the water, looking at her from underneath." Tears began running down Mary's cheeks. "The sunlight from above was shining down on her, framing her face. She was so beautiful, Dom. So beautiful."
"Don't do this, Mary."
She paid me no mind. "I wanted Connie to be with me. It's only fair, isn't it? We never got to be with each other for even one day. So I brought her to me, Dom. I brought her down under the water to be with me."
I fluffed the pillows underneath Mary's head and pulled the blanket up over her. "Shhh. Try and go back to sleep "
"No!" She reached up and wrapped her arms around my waist, clinging to me like a child. "I don't want to sleep anymore, Dom."
At five-thirty this morning, an epidemic of dog barking swept through my neighborhood.
I got up from bed (Mary, thankfully, remained fast asleep) and peeked through the blinds on the front window.
It was just past dawn: a woman was jogging past. She was in her late fifties, early sixties, I would say, and moving at a speed somewhere between a brisk walk and a jog.
The cause of all the barking? The dog trotting at her side, a big German shepherd with metal tags dangling off his collar. The noise of the tags clinking together apparently offended every other dog within hearing distance although they didn't seem to bother the shepherd as he trotted effortlessly along at his master's side, turning his head first left and then right as they moved down the street.
It was a few Sundays after the incident with Rustin Parr that I first held mass at the Brody household. Close to two dozen of us squeezed into the big front parlor downstairs. Carol had set a fine silk tablecloth over their dining table, and we used that as the altar.
I gave a sermon about good and evil, and the responsibilities men faced to confront the demons besieging their world. This was the spring of 1940: you'll remember, I trust, what was happening in Europe.
Anticipating a large crowd, I'd consecrated more hosts than usual. When mass was finished, I placed the consecrated Eucharist in a pyx on the altar, snapped it shut, and left the candles burning to announce the presence of Christ.
Then I went onto the front porch, where all the parishioners had gathered and were drinking tall glasses of lemonade Carol had set out on a table. I took a glass too. We'd started mass deliberately early that Sunday, knowing that the temperature was supposed to get close to ninety degrees that day.
Carol was leaning on the porch rail, deeply engrossed in a conversation with Katie Flynn. I joined them.
"I won't do it, and I won't let John do it either," Katie was saying. "I've heard enough of those stories."
Carol laughed. "Oh, Katie, you can't be serious. We go up there all the time. It's a beautiful place for a picnic."
Katie shook her head. "I won't let the twins near it."
"Near what place?"
"Oh, hello, Father," Carol said. "I thought that was a wonderful sermon."
"Well, thank you. But, please don't let me interrupt. You two were talking about..."
"The witch," Katie said.
"The Blair Witch. Elly Kedward."
I shook my head. "I'm afraid you've lost me."
Katie frowned. "You mean to say that you've been here for how long now?"
"A year and a half, almost."
"A year and a half, and you haven't heard any stories about the witch?"
I had to admit that was true.
"Katie, maybe this isn't the time or place," Carol began.
"No, it's all right," I said.
Except it wasn't, not really: I have already mentioned the Church's attitude toward such things. And yes, this was a private home, but we had also just finished celebrating mass here not ten minutes earlier; the juxtaposition was, at best, tasteless.
But I wanted the conversation to continue. It didn't have to be about the witch, actually.
It just had to be with Carol.
I had seen her several more times, off and on, during the last couple weeks, as we made plans to celebrate today's mass, but never for more than a few minutes at a time. Quick, clipped discussions, colored by the memory of what had happened the night I'd driven her back from Frederick. Michael was there more than once as well; I wanted to talk with her in private, the way we had on the bus.
You may be thinking I wanted more than that.
Not so, not on that day, at least. What I wanted was conversation and camaraderie. I know, I was supposed to be getting that from the Church, and even more so, from my relationship with the Lord, but to be honest, I think by that spring of 1940, part of me already knew I was in the wrong business. That, in following my mother's wishes for me, in trying to be the good man that, at that time, I thought my father hadn't been, I had ignored my own true calling.
So I finally learned a little about the local folklore, and then Katie's husband, John, joined us, and we talked about the move they were planning in the New Year. And the Flynns left, and Albert Collins wandered down from the inn, and the talk turned to baseball, and I started explaining to Carol why the fact that Joe DiMaggio never struck out was one of the reasons he was such a good ballplayer, which led us into a discussion of the hit-and-run, and the importance of sliding hard into second, and positioning your infielders, and so on.
"Why, Father," Carol said to me at one point, smiling. "You should have been a teacher."
At which I laughed and happened to look around the porch.
Kyle was standing in the doorway, staring at me.
Shortly thereafter, I went back into the front parlor to collect the instruments of the mass.
The candles were out.
The pyx was open.
And the consecrated hosts were gone.
Someone must have cleaned them up by mistake, is what I told myself.
Copyright © 2000 by Artisan Pictures Inc.
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This book was hard to put down. It was so interesting and well put together. I really enjoyed reading page after page of a historical mystery.