For my family
THE GUMSHOE DIARIES
Los Angeles Mission, East 5th Street…Dec 4, 1:30pm
Patricia Cromwell, Sister Pat, dried her soapy hands with a gingham dishtowel in the kitchen. She had just finished the dishes from the lunch rush and it was time to take her own meal with the other volunteers in the dining hall. There were only a handful of people sharing the large room as only the faithful dared chow down on leftovers here. Most of the crew and that included members of the clergy preferred to venture out into the city rather than take their chances on these table scraps. She couldn’t blame them, the vow of poverty didn’t mean that one had to risk their lives for goodness sake. The nun pieced together a modest and healthy lunch consisting largely of salad greens and veggies and piled it onto a clean white Corel dish. She placed the dish and a cup of hot tea onto a heavy plastic tray and walked out into the hall to find an empty table. She was feeling a tad pensive today and preferred to eat alone in silence with her thoughts.
Sister Pat liked coming here, it gave her a chance to get out of her routines at the Church as well as at the mother’s shelter and still serve God. She had been volunteering at the mission since the early 80’s, back when the LA Mission was over on Los Angeles Street. She enjoyed working with the wide variety of volunteers from all walks of life, especially the young people. They helped to keep her young at heart and she liked hearing their unique and individual perspectives about the world and their neighborhoods. Truth be told she enjoyed seeing the secular world through their eyes and unbeknownst to them existed vicariously alongside them through their stories and experiences. She had no regrets about her choice to serve God and the Holy Church, but once in a while she enjoyed stepping outside of herself and indulge her imagination. Even Nuns and Priests were susceptible to playing the ‘what if’ game sometimes, after all they were humans as well.
Sister Pat sat in silence and picked at her food. Her stomach was still tied in knots and her mind spinning from the letter she received yesterday. It was waiting for her in the office and she had retrieved it after evening prayers. She remembered how strange it felt to receive an actual letter in the era of emails and texts. It was rare to receive anything but bills and junk mail. Yes, nuns have lives too, nobody is safe from spam and the government. Curious though, she had no family and her small circle of friends lived with her at the convent. So outside of an occasional Christmas or Easter card the only mail she received were a few bills, notices from the government at tax time and communiques from the Diocese Personnel Office. So this letter intrigued her and she was hesitant to open it straight away. She knew it was silly, she had nothing to be nervous or afraid of, her mundane life revolved around her devotion to her faith. Still there was something foreboding about the mysterious letter. Perhaps the absence of a return address had something to do with it, curious. So summoning her courage and calming herself she finally opened envelope and removed the one page letter.
Sitting on the edge of the twin bed in her small room she opened the letter finally. It was from a young man whom she had counseled not so very long ago. The letter was handwritten in a pleasant cursive style which she thought unusual for a man. His name was Alex, a parishioner she recognized as the only son of a wealthy family from Bel Air. Sister Pat tried to visualize the parents but they were shadows in her memory, only the boy stood out. She had seen so many children over the years at the Church but this one had one of those faces that you never forget. He was cute as a button as a toddler with a head full of white blonde hair fashioned in a Dutch Boy style, with eyes of a crystal blue. She had watched him grow up over the years as the family regularly attended Sunday Mass. He had come to her suffering from a broken heart.
Apparently a girl had left him for reasons that she never gave. Sister Pat recalled that he had been nearly inconsolable and she felt frightened as well for some reason. It didn’t take long for Sister Pat to connect him to the subject of Father Quinn’s documentary film, Megan Mallory, a fact that she never shared with the priest. She had wanted to but Alex had begged her to keep it secret until he had time to think, time to get over her. When she eventually asked him if he were the father of Megan’s baby he went pale. Sullenly he had claimed that he didn’t even know that Megan was with child and then suddenly stormed out of the session without an explanation. That was their last session together, Sister Pat never saw him again, neither at the clinic nor at the Church. Now this letter so many months later. Sister Pat took the spectacles hanging from a chain around her neck and placed them onto the bridge of her sharp Roman nose. The letter was short:
“Sister please forgive my childish behavior at our last session and my absence since then. I had much to deal with and much to investigate. You should know that I loved Megan dearly and that I was under the impression that she felt likewise. Her rejection and the news of her pregnancy was a shock to say the least. Nothing she did coincided with everything that she had said to me and her condition was a complete blow to me as well as we had never engaged in relations together, even though the likelihood of that was how we met, she being a come of age gift from my father. Megan’s senseless death and the horrific details compelled me to ferret out the circumstances that led her to her tragic decision. I went to my father and confronted him about what I had come to suspect was the cause of her depression and guilt. Naturally he was upset but more than that he was, I don’t know, cold is the best term for his reaction. It scared me. I need to talk to you about this, can we meet? I need help deciding what to do next. Call the cell number below as soon as you can. Thanks…Alex”
She had read the letter several times before falling asleep. In the morning after Mass she had gone to the office and called the number. At first there was no answer and a computer voice explained that the user’s voice mailbox was full. Frustrated she tried again only this time someone picked up on the other end only it wasn’t Alex, it was the police. Sister Pat had hung up without answering and started to worry. That was the inspiration for the pensive mood she’s been in all day, the mood she continued to be in now. Staring past her lunch she continued time traveling in a reflective state as she pondered Alex’s whereabouts. Suddenly her pensive trance was broken.
“Good day Sister,” spoke the soft familiar voice.
Startled Sister Pat involuntarily pushed her lunch tray away and sat up straight as if she were caught cheating on a quiz in school. It was a reflex action but she recovered her composure and slowly turned her head to confirm her recognition of the voice. She smiled when she saw Father Quinn’s face, things would be alright now she thought.
“Hello Father,” she replied as the priest joined her taking a seat across from her at the otherwise empty lunch table. Father Quinn folded his hands on the tabletop, glanced at the full tray of food and studied the nun’s face for a moment. Her expression was more than meek, she had the look of someone who had left the confessional with unfinished business.
“You’ve hardly touched your meal Sister, what’s troubling you my dear?”
Sister Pat fidgeted nervously and answered the priest in a small voice, “I’m frightened Father,” she replied.
“I can see that you’re troubled about something, how might I help you?”
“I’m not frightened for myself Father, you see I am afraid for someone else. It’s a little hard to explain.”
“I see. Well now, try taking a breath and give it a go. An act of contrition can heal most pensive moods.”
“Perhaps Father, but I must admit that there a matter of a small confession involved.”
“How fortunate you are that I happened by then,” Father Quinn replied with a reassuring smile.
“I suppose so Father, by the way why are you here anyway?”
“I was meeting with the Mission Director about increasing the donation from the Diocese next year.”
“Oh alright, anyway, what I have to confess involves the Mallory girl and her child you see,” said Sister Pat.
Father Quinn willed himself to remain calm and nonplussed by her comment, “I see, go on dear,” he said evenly.
The nun leaned forward slightly as if what she were about to say was not to be overheard by anyone, “Father there is something that I never shared with you about the girl. Something that I know now that I should have,” she said in a hushed voice.
The priest’s face revealed none of the inner turmoil he was experiencing at the moment. More surprises regarding Megan Mallory was the last thing he wanted to deal with, “Alright then, so what is it you have to share about that poor child?”
“As you recall Megan refused to reveal the identity of the father of her baby.”
“Yes, I am aware of that, why is that a concern to you now?”
“I may know who that person is, or rather I may know someone who can tell us who that person is.”
“And how did you come to know this mysterious someone?”
“That is my confession Father. You see while you were tending to Megan and making your film I was counseling a young man who may have been an intimate acquaintance of the girl.”
“You mean the father of her child?”
“No Father, not intimate in that way, at the time they were together they remained pure.”
Father Quinn chortled involuntarily, “So this child she carried was an immaculate conception? Is that what you’re insinuating?”
“No, of course not Father, I’m merely saying that the two of them were apparently an item up until the time that she abruptly left him and subsequently arrived at our doorstep in dire straits.”
Father Quinn pondered this a moment, this revelation would certainly eliminate him as a suspect in the girl’s demise, he should feel relieved but he did not and that concerned him. There must be more to this, he pressed the nun further, “Why are you only now coming forward with this information Sister?”
Sister Pat paused a second or two and bit at her lips like a nervous child before answering. “I received a disturbing letter from the young man yesterday, he wants to meet with me and talk. He left a phone number for me to contact him but when I called the police answered,” Sister Pat explained.
“The police?” replied Father Quinn.
“Yes father, the police. I don’t know how else to reach this boy without going to his family, and the letter left me with the impression that that may not be a good idea.”
“Do you know them personally?”
“Not exactly, I know who they are. They are not actually parishioners but they attend Mass from time to time.”
“Odd, what did the letter say that would leave you with that impression?”
“Nothing specific, it’s just that the young man stated that he confronted his father and that statement made me uncomfortable.”
“I see, what is the boy’s name?”
“Alex Father, Alex Whembly,” answered Sister Pat. Father Quinn flinched and it did not go unnoticed by the nun.
“I know that name, Detective Roode mentioned him the other day,” the priest said as he searched his memory of that conversation.
“Who is Detective Roode?” asked the nun.
“Nobody you need to concern yourself with Sister. Do you have that letter with you?”
“No Father, it is back at the convent.”
“May I have a look at it?
“Why? Do you think that it’s important?”
“I’m not sure but I’d like to share it with this detective, it may help him to close out this suspicion of me by the police and frankly the Church as well.”
“Of course Father. Do you think this detective can find out where young Alex has gone to? I’d feel so much better to know that he is safe and sound.”
“Quite possibly Sister, quite possibly. Let’s pop over to the convent and retrieve that letter and I’ll contact Mr. Roode.” The nun stood and grabbed her untouched lunch, “Roode, that’s an odd name don’t you think,” remarked Sister Pat.
“Not once you’ve the man Sister,” Father Quinn replied chuckling.
“Dear me,” said Sister Pat.
“Quite,” replied Father Quinn.