"An uncommonly well-characterized murder mystery about the friendship between a politician, a priest and a police lieutenant…" –Best Thrillers
Three friends, inseparable as children, take very different paths toward adulthood. In spite of the distances that emerge among them, they are thrust together by the tragedy of death. Each affected in different ways. Giuseppe Lozano, a candidate for U.S. Senate, returns home one night to find his wife and three children mysteriously murdered. There seems to be no motive, and little evidence is left at the scene. How will this affect him and his run for office? Giovanni Lozano, a Catholic priest, is forced to look beyond the violence to find the presence of God. As a brother and uncle, he feels anger and a desire for revenge. As a priest, he is torn by the call of a God who loves all people-good and bad. Can he forgive? Tom Moran, a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, is charged with finding the murderer and building a case for justice. He feels no call to forgive. Nor is he driven by ambition. This case is personal. But can he deliver?
Three lives. Three friends. Will the bonds of friendship survive?
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By William P. Messenger
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 William P. Messenger
All right reserved.
The day of the funeral, I arrived thirty minutes early. I wanted to speak with Fr. Giovanni Lozano before the service began. I also needed to collect my final thoughts, for I had been asked to deliver the eulogy. My mind was on grief. It is arguably the deepest of human emotions, made more difficult by the fact that in spite of our continued efforts, it remains always inconsolable, leaving our best sentiments to languish among the insipid poetry of sympathy cards. So what do you say to someone who confronts the death of a loved one? What do you say when the survivors are your friends?
My entire journey to the church that morning was one of struggle, fighting mightily to keep myself in check, at times unable to withhold my tears, all the while wondering what private thoughts I might share with my friend. As I approached the church, I knew I would have only minutes before the arriving crowd would inundate him, thereby by vanishing any opportunity for personal affection. Over the previous few days we had spent many hours together, but emotions would be different that morning—for both of us. Right then we would need each other.
I entered the sacristy and greeted him.
"Hello, Giovanni. How are you today"? Geez, what a stupid question. I might as well be writing for a greeting card company!
"I'm fine for the moment, Tom. Thanks". Giovanni was the priest. If he was not in good shape for the funeral, the whole congregation was in trouble. "No. Actually, I'm not fine. In all my years, I have never had to face anything like this".
"Neither of us has, Gio". That was his favorite nickname. "The hearses are already out front. They are preparing to unload the four coffins".
"I don't think I could do this without you, Tom. Your being here.... I can't tell you what this means to me".
"Don't even try. I couldn't be anywhere else. You are my best friend, and I support you today as I always have. But I came here early to draw strength from you. I don't have your faith, Gio, and I'm not sure I can get through the service, let alone the eulogy".
"You don't need faith, Tom. You need only speak from your heart. I know it won't be easy. Still, I have a lot of confidence in you. You'll do just fine".
"Thanks, Gio". I knew he was trying to encourage me even though he, himself, felt weak. At the same time he was not being condescending. He knew the trouble I would have controlling my emotions and trying to speak with any coherence. He was facing the same difficulty, himself, but for me, the size of the congregation would only complicate the situation. Public speaking is second nature to Giovanni, whereas I am unaccustomed to any stage. He knew that the crowd would likely unnerve me, easily disturbing an already confusing range of feelings.
"We'll both get through this, Tom", he continued.
I found his manner and confidence quite steadying.
Beyond the sacristy door lay a cavernous church that would soon fill beyond capacity with individuals angry, confused and fearful. Irrespective of religious tradition, the believers among them would be searching for the hand of God. Scattered among these faithful would be humanists and agnostics with concerns a little less sacred. They do not seek consolation or escape through the intervention of the divine or the mystery of an afterlife. Being more down to earth, their challenge embraces paradox. How does one make sense of a senseless tragedy? Shortly, Giovanni would need to marshal all his intellectual forces and attempt to craft a meaningful narrative that would address all these diverse views. For now, words were superfluous.
We reached out and cocooned ourselves in an embrace of such depth that it divorced the bonds of time and space. We were not alone, yet we were unaware of the funeral directors and altar servers who passed by in respectful quiet. Though lasting only moments, time was as immobile as an unwound watch. Silent sobs. Tears both of love and sadness streaming onto each other's shoulders. I may not have possessed faith, but in this embrace I found peace. As we stepped back, I could feel Giovanni's strength. He could feel my love. We were both ready.
* * *
In my experience, most funerals attract a reliable core of mourners, if only family members and close friends. But accidental death, violent murder and young lives cut suddenly short create a uniquely abrupt, if however brief, pause in people's lives. These are the deaths that stir throngs into attendance—tending to draw numbers that rival a rock concert. Today's funeral was no exception and my expectations about the crowd proved correct. There was a reason the attendance was standing room only.
Giuseppe Lozano, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, returned home one evening to find his wife, two teenage daughters and 11 year-old son, all murdered in their family home in Los Angeles. That was a week ago.
As the police lieutenant assigned to investigate the killings, I would have been at the church anyway. But my attendance today was not just part of my job. I knew the family only too well, and now I watched as the priest, my best friend, presided over this traumatic service with a restrained elegance. How he could appear so calm, I do not really know, for he was both brother-in-law and uncle to the deceased.
The two of us have long approached death from different vantage points. I am a cop, a detective. I routinely see death, frequently the result of violence. Over the years I have become nearly immune to the feelings associated with other people's loss. The most bloody and senseless have become almost commonplace for me. Other than committing myself to solving the crime, I see no rays of hope in the violent end of life, and words of solace do not come easily.
Giovanni is no stranger to any of life's transitions, either. Having been a priest for twenty years, he is certainly as familiar as I am with the inevitable passage known as death. During his years in ministry he has consoled more grieving people than he cares to remember. So death, itself, poses no particular strain for him. Then again, this was not just death. It was unexpected, violent, senseless—and personal. And no one, not even a priest, is prepared for that. Yet, it was to Giovanni that I looked to gather strength for my own part in the service.
Although we grew up together and I knew him as well as he knew himself, I could not imagine from what depths he would summon the fortitude to lead this funeral. I doubt that he would find comfort this morning even in the hauntingly beautiful requiems of Mozart or Fauré. But then, Giovanni always had an untapped, interior calm. As the tower bells struck the hour, he processed down the aisle and the service began.
* * *
Today's funeral, with its perturbing placement of caskets, evoked another in my memory. I had been on the police force for only a few years, and Fr. Giovanni was a young priest. It fell upon him to pastor another family through a tragedy with eerie similarity. That situation was a case of mistaken identity—not of person, but of address.
In Los Angeles, several numerical street names appear duplicated and are therefore easily confused, as in 109th Pl. and 109th St. It does not help that they are parallel, occurring one after the other and in numerical order between 108th and 110th. The only distinguishing characteristic is their designator.
This confusion served as a remote cause of that other catastrophe. A woman, her daughter and two grandchildren were all killed, the result of a drug deal gone wrong, a drug deal that did not involve the victims. The dealer sent his henchmen to an address. The correct house number, the correct street number—the wrong suffix. They broke in and killed four innocent people, sparing only a grandchild they did not find.
As I entered the church on that long ago summer day, it dawned on me that I had never attended a funeral with more than one body. I had, of course, been to memorial services commemorating multiple dead, such as those held on national holidays and occasions following plane crashes, earthquakes or other natural disasters. When I walked into the church, that day, I was taken aback.
Regardless the size of the church, there is something unsettling about the vision of multiple caskets at a single service, especially when children are coffined beside adults. That service was held in a large church, with several hundred people in attendance. Visual attention was drawn to the area between altar and pews, and the disparity among the caskets was incongruous, leaving the threat of unreason to claim the day.
The funeral mass took place on a particularly hot summer morning. Who ever thought of building churches in Los Angeles without air-conditioning? Fill them to capacity in the middle of July and you are guaranteed a sweltering experience. Even if the congregants do not pass out from heat exhaustion, how can they steel their attention on hymns, readings, sermons and prayers? How can they possibly focus on some uncertain promise of eternal life?
In my recollection, however, Giovanni kept all the intruding forces at bay. His engaging style personalized each element of prayer, leaving everyone in attendance to feel as though the priest was speaking directly to his or her own emotions. Even a non-believer would have to admit that Giovanni channeled a powerful and transcendent faith, at the same time displaying remarkably imminent compassion. He gently shepherded the family and congregation that morning, offering sensitive insight into God, the Scriptures, life and death. He enabled all present to think through the unthinkable and find trust in the hands of God. Something more was being required of him today.
We were six years old when Giovanni and I first met. It was the summer the Lozano family moved into our modest, Pasadena neighborhood, a little north of Los Angeles, and I had just finished kindergarten. My own parents had moved directly from Houston, Texas, to Pasadena in 1952, and were already living in our family home when I was born in 1954. As a result, I grew up knowing all the other children in the neighborhood.
In the 1950's and '60's there was not much to say about Pasadena, other than that it was the home of the annual Rose Parade and college football's Rose Bowl Game. The city rambled along the foothills, sheltered on one side by the San Gabriel Mountains and over-shadowed on the other by the big city of Los Angeles. It enveloped a wide diversity of neighborhoods, but never quite gelled them into a community. Not unintentionally, racial, and to some extent ethnic, zones were created, erecting invisible barriers between people. It was believed that these divisions made for a secure environment in which to raise children. In truth, the divisions simply made it easier for people to harbor false and negative attitudes toward the larger and more diverse populace.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of the civil rights movement and its subsequent legislation was the integration of previously segregated neighborhoods. Only by living next door to one another do we come to understand our commonality, that we struggle for the same kind of life and share the same concerns for our children.
The city fathers did not want to admit it, but in its early days Pasadena's biggest draw was that it served as a bedroom community for Los Angeles. Almost everyone worked in L.A. and the length of the daily commute threatened the city's future growth. In order to ease and speed the traffic between the two cities, the nation's first freeway was built, and Highway 11 became known as the Pasadena Freeway. It meandered along the Arroyo Seco, a major tributary of the Los Angeles River, at the break neck speed of 45 miles per hour. Well, it was break neck in its day, especially considering the winding turns necessitated by the decision to parallel the riverbed.
Over time, with the injection of Federal dollars, the highway number was changed to Interstate 110, the speed limit was raised, a concrete divider added and other attempts were made to make driving the freeway safer. But the twists and turns remain. I still like driving along the Pasadena Freeway late at night when there is little traffic. I push the pedal a little closer to the floor, inch the speedometer beyond the posted limits and test my ability to cut corners and straighten a winding road.
* * *
The Lozano family was a good fit for our neighborhood. Marjorie Collins, who lived next door to us, was the neighborhood's unofficial social chair. So after the move was completed, she quickly organized a welcome party at the local park. A decision by enlightened city planners many years previous, resulted in a good size multi-purpose recreation area with plenty of playground space, thus freeing the children from the boredom of adult conversation, and the restrictions of overly cautious parenting.
Since it was summer, we were in the midst of daylight saving time, which meant long afternoons and evenings to play outside. For the adults, this time of year was perfect for parties and this occasion provided an opportunity to begin to know their new neighbors. Most of the fathers were drinking beer and playing cards or horseshoes. A few of the mothers drank vodka, and, of course they were all talking and laughing. We kids did not stick around the tables long enough to figure out what they were talking about. It just seemed like the same stuff as always, and, as always, we were completely uninterested. After inhaling our food, we were off, hoping to be forgotten for a few hours.
The Lozanos were the first Italians I had ever met. Of course, at six years old, I didn't even know what Italians were. All I noticed was that their names were a little different.
Luciano and Carmela Lozano had three children. Their first- born was named Bianca, but the family always called her "Bella", an affectionate Italian nickname meaning beautiful. The family was completed with the arrival of twin boys, Giuseppe and Giovanni.
My own family was slightly smaller. My parents, Thomas and Susan had only two children. My mother had miscarried on two occasions, and I ended up with no brothers and only one younger sister, Karen. This did not mean that there was no sibling rivalry.
Although I loved my sister in my own way, I never nicknamed her, "Bella". Fortunately, neither did my parents. Equally gratifying was that they didn't call her "princess". There was no need. I think she thought of herself as the heiress to some mythological throne. Whether due to those imaginary pretensions or her general psychological make up, she was extremely dramatic, and it probably didn't help that she was "daddy's little girl." My father, of course, did not call her that. Nonetheless, he clearly favored her. But, since I tended to live in a world of my own making, I really did not care. I spent sufficient time outside the house that I was not bothered by family favoritism.
* * *
The day the Lozanos moved in was the first weekend of July. I was playing in the front yard, and so I was the first to meet the new kids. I had heard of twins and seen them on television shows, but never in person. The Lozano boys were identical. Actually, that is an understatement. Had they not been banded at birth, even their parents would have been unable to tell them apart. Every feature of their tiny bodies was an exact duplicate. Any distinguishing characteristics would not emerge for years, and those markers would not be physical, displaying themselves, instead, as differences in personality. The day their family moved in, I really thought I was seeing double, for the boys were certainly more alike than different. But then, their personalities were only beginning to develop.
Giovanni and Giuseppe were six years old that summer, the same as I. Specifically they were one month older. Although we got along almost instantly, a sense of bonding would come later. Before their arrival, I was the kid in the neighborhood that the others followed, for I possessed the qualities that they all admired. I was the fastest and took the greatest risks—hallmarks of a genuine leader. This enabled me to determine the games and set the rules. If there were any disagreements, I was also the judge. So it was probably not by accident that I, or my team, usually won.
Excerpted from Shattered Triangle by William P. Messenger Copyright © 2012 by William P. Messenger. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
At a time in my life when I was seeking answers, this story with its intricate story line was a God send. Deeply emotional, captivating, and except for X language that I do not like at all (no excuses) it holds the reader until the end. I also LEARNED from the many knowledgeable explanations given by the author and using my Nook.
Loved the book. Surprise ending!! Highly recommend it.
Set against the backdrop of Los Angeles during the latter part of the 20th Century, Shattered Triangle is a crime drama that not only explores the tangled mystery of multiple murders, but the complex relationship between three childhood friends. The books author, William Messenger, does an great job of character development, connecting the golden post-war era of Southern California with the lives of each character and how each matured in response to that era in the person that they became. Messenger crafts a scenario of mystery and intrigue leaving the reader curious as to how the tale will end. The book is enjoyable and a great read - I would recommend it to everyone.
This is a great book. You can't put it down. Very surprising ending!
Shattered Triangle is an outstanding read. The character development was great. Each character was their own person yet their blending was vital to the story. The author totally maintained the old saying of being a true "page turner". You wanted to know why this happened and could anyone have helped stop or even prevent it.