For my family
THE GUMSHOE DIARIES
McArthur Park, Los Angeles…December 5, 8:00am
December in Los Angeles means warm sunshine and cool crisp air courtesy the Pacific Ocean which loomed large just a few miles to the west. Father Quinn enjoyed early morning walks like this, which he did daily except for when a film project forced a change in his routine. He walked down the stairs leading into McArthur Park, LA’s version of NYC’s Central Park. The air was cold enough this morning to leave a vapor trail as he walked along the pathway. Each exhale revealed by a tiny cloud of carbon dioxide. Still it was a far cry from the constant rainfall this time of year back in Ireland where the man spent the first half of his life as a footballer prior to entering the priesthood. Word is he was a pretty good midfielder back in the day actually. I watched him as he entered the park and strolled the path near the small man-made lake. Perhaps he was reminiscing, it was possible. He definitely looked like he was mulling something over by the look on his face.
Even though early morning constitutionals like this were part of his daily routine, today Father Quinn had an ulterior motive for being in the park. He was here to meet with me to compare notes on the Alex Whembley angle. If he was right this young man could be the alibi that exonerates him, and the Church for that matter where Megan Malloy and her baby were concerned. The priest had mentioned a letter sent to a nun at The Immaculate Heart of Mary by the young man. Sister Patricia Cromwell, Sister Pat to anyone who knew her longer than fifteen minutes. She was very popular among the congregation. The Sister was soft hearted with a warm and pleasant demeanor. And apparently this nun had been a confidant of Alex and, by that association, with Megan Mallory as well. An interesting revelation that motivated me to skip my breakfast and get here early.
I watched the Priest make his way along the footpath to where we agreed to meet. I kept out of sight for the moment and studied him as he got closer. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to see, maybe nothing, but after 25 years on the job I’d learned that it really was better to be safe than sorry. He stopped about 50 yards from where I was standing and exhaled deeply. The man appeared a little winded from the long walk from the Church and I sympathized immediately as age was creeping up on me as well. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a timepiece. By my Timex he was a little early which explained why he started looking all around trying to spot me. That was when I stepped out into the open and strolled over to a bench on the pathway. I waived at the Priest as I reached the bench and waited for him. He nodded in acknowledgement picked up the pace. I think it surprised him that I arrived before he did. Pretty sure he expected me to be a slacker. Well, like they say, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
“Top of the morning you’re Grace,” I said with only a hint of sarcasm.
“Father Quinn will do detective,” the Priest replied extending his hand.
I reached out and we shook hands gently, then I reached into the paper sack I was holding and offered him coffee in a paper cup. “It’s black, I assumed you took your coffee like a man,” I said.
“I do, what gave me away?” he replied.
“I have to be honest, you were drinking coffee when we first met at one of your shoots downtown and I have a eidetic memory, sort of.”
“Really? Well I rather doubt that but I’m impressed nonetheless.” He said accepting the coffee and removing the lid to blow across the top. We sat beside each other and sipped at our coffee quietly for a couple of minutes. Of course, not having the patience God gave a tse tse fly I broke the silence straight away.
“Looks like it’ll be a warm one today.” I said clumsily, never being one for small talk.
“I suppose,” replied the Priest.
I got right to the point, “So did you bring the letter Father?”
I waited a nanosecond, “Okay well you know something about football Padre, pass it!”
Father Quinn grinned, apparently amused by my street humor. He opened the folder under his arm, removed an envelope and handed it to me. I grabbed it quickly and removed the one page handwritten letter, unfolded it and began to scan it. Uncomfortably I reached into my jacket for my reading glasses. “Huh, must be the glare.” I said sheepishly as I put them onto my face and started to read.
“Positively blinding I must agree,” Father Quinn replied sarcastically as he mockingly shielded his eyes from the sun. We sat together in silence while I read through the letter from Alex Whembley to Sister Pat. I took my time, read it twice pausing a couple of times to chew on bits and pieces of what Alex shared with the elderly nun. Without commenting I removed my glasses and returned them to my jacket pocket and then refolded the letter. put it back into the envelope and handed it back to the priest. He waited a moment before speaking. “Your thoughts detective?”
“Well if the letter is legit you and the Church can breathe easy because this gets you both off of the hot seat. No pun intended.”
“None taken. How exactly would this exonerate us?” asked the Priest.
I turned in my seat to face him and replied, “Well for one thing it adds two new suspects to the line-up, Mr. Ipso and Mr. Facto, i.e. Alex and his obliging Dad. Which sort of overshadows your working relationship with Megan.”
“You’re implying that Alex was the father of Megan’s child? You think that he somehow provoked Megan’s suicide?”
“Possibly, actually it’s highly likely. But my gumshoe intuition is telling me to be careful not to jump at the first theory. I want to dive a little deeper into this and see what’s lurking beneath the obvious.”
“I believe that Alex was the father of the child alright, but I’m less sure that it was Alex that drove Megan to suicide.”
Father Quinn rubbed at his chin and thought a moment. “I see, but why on Earth would you suspect the boy’s father?” asked the Priest.
“It was Alex who put that pebble in my shoe when he revealed that he told his Dad about Megan’s situation. And I got the impression that he didn’t like Daddy-O’s reaction to the news. It wasn’t what he wrote so much but what he didn’t write. I’m reading between the lines here and I need to use my gumshoes instincts now.”
“So you plan to interview Mr. Whembley now?”
“Nope. I’d like to talk to Sister Pat first. If that’s jake with you of course Father.”
“If you’re asking my permission you needn’t. That’ll be up to Sister Pat but I see no reason for her to object. What exactly does ‘jake’ mean anyway?”
“It’s just a bygone slang term we used back in the old neighborhood, same as okay.”
“Oh, well then it’s jake with me if you speak with Sister Patricia. I assume you’ll want to talk with her as soon as possible.”
“Natch, that’s short for naturally. Can you arrange that Padre?”
“Natch, I’ll see if she can make time for you later this afternoon.”
Tossing what was left of my coffee onto the grass behind me I looked around for the nearest rubbish bin to deposit the Styrofoam cup into. I spotted one a few yards away and excused myself. “Just a sec Padre, let me toss this empty cup and I’ll be right back. I have one more question for ya.”
The priest nodded an acknowledgement as he stood up to stretch his legs. I tossed the empty cup in the bin and walked back slowly, giving the priest a once over. You never know about people, they can surprise you if you let your guard down. This letter would get him and the Church out of a jam, if it’s legit that is. First thing they teach you in detective school is the five “whys,” who, what, when, where, and why. The tricky one is always “why.” I needed to talk with Sister Pat and drill into why this letter surfaced now. Why hadn’t she showed this to Father Quinn sooner? Why indeed.
“One last question Father, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course not, what is it my son?”
I grinned at the ‘my son’ reference. I haven’t been called that since my mother died, God rest her soul. “Has anyone else seen this letter? I mean besides you and Sister Pat.”
The priest rubbed at his chin, “to my knowledge no, but you’d best ask Sister Patricia that question, she would know best I expect.”
“Why do you ask?” added Father Quinn.
It was my turn to rub at my chin, “Well to be honest I’m not exactly on good terms with the LAPD and as you may know they are investigating Alex Whembly’s murder. Looking into this letter will likely find me crossing paths with them. They take a dim view of outsiders interfering with their business. They call it obstruction of justice, and I don’t want to wind up in the pokey if you get my drift. That won’t do either of us any good, you or me.”
“Indeed. I had not considered that, but surely they would welcome any help that you could provide, wouldn’t they?” asked the priest naively.
“You’d think so wouldn’t you! But no, those guys are territorial and I need to stay out of the way or at least out of sight. My job is to quietly clear you. I’ll figure out how to leave an easy trail for the cops to follow once I figure out what’s what. This letter puts me a step ahead of them, that’s why it’s important to know who else may have seen it.”
“Understood. How can I assist you?”
“Just keep your trap shut about this Padre, and make sure Sister Pat does likewise. Remember, loose lips sink ships. Go about your business as you normally would and as far as anyone, and I mean anyone, is concerned this meeting never happened. Understand?”
“Of course, you’ll keep me informed of your progress I expect?”
“I’ll let you know what you need to know when you need to know it Father.”
Father Quinn studied me pensively for a moment and then nodded an acknowledgement. I could see the wheels turning in his expression, he wasn’t accustomed to being talked to in such a manner but he held his tongue and swallowed his pride. That was a good sign, the last thing I needed was any amateur kibitzing that might tip off the cops to the trail I was on. I gave the priest a pat on the shoulder and we walked out of the part in opposite directions.