A Blade in the Dark…Chapter Twelve…unedited…

Reverend Caster sat back down. Mr. and Mrs. Hendricks sat down as well, an uncomfortable silence filled the room. Lilly and I stood.

“Let’s talk about the sinner formerly known as Ana Marie,” I snapped. “What sin has a three-year-old committed that requires ‘purging’ per se?”

No one said anything. Lilly watched them, so did I, but I was wound up. Mrs. Hendricks looked at the floor, her father sat on the couch and averted his eyes, but Reverend Caster gave me a fake smile.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, detective.”

“Yeah, you do. We spoke to your assistant pastor. Show him the card, Lilly.”

Lilly handed him the card, and the smugness on his face vanished. His eyes grew colder, and he licked his lips but said nothing. Caster handed the card back to Lilly.

“That’s a nice building you have there in the middle of nowhere. So, what sin did she commit? What was the price of her admittance into heaven?”

“I don’t see what that question has to do with Ana Marie’s death,” Mr. Hendricks said, as his voice cracked. He gestured to Caster and said, “Reverend Caster is here as our spiritual counselor and friend.”

“Some friend,” Lilly muttered. “You know you can’t buy your way into heaven, right?”

The tension in the room grew thick, and I was convinced we wouldn’t learn anything as long as Reverend Caster was in the room, and yet, I had nothing to hold him on. Still, it was worth watching the color drain from his face when he saw the card of his assistant pastor. 

“Reverend, when was the last time you saw or spoke to Ana Marie?”

“About a week before she disappeared,” Mr. Hendricks responded. I stared at him until he shut up. 

“Are you Reverend Caster?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Then, why are you bumping your gums? Don’t interrupt me again.”

Caster cleared his throat and said, “It’s as he said. I saw the family in my office about a week before she disappeared.”

“And why did you need to see them?”

“It concerned a private matter. It’s not pertinent to your investigation.”

Lilly stepped close and whispered, “We’ll decide what’s pertinent or not, reverend.” He gave her a smile and responded with, “Of course, I beg your pardon.”

“We’re in the middle of our purge,” Mrs. Hendricks said, “and we’re having a difficult time getting the heavenly being to notice us. I know you and your partner think we’re foolish, but it’s a crisis of faith-nothing more- and our meeting had nothing to do with Ana’s death.”

She began to cry. It wasn’t a fake cry, just the sobs of a tired woman who missed her child. Mr. Hendricks put his arm around his wife and consoled her. It was time to wrap this up, for now.

“We’ll be in touch,” I said. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

Caster stood to leave as well. He bid his ‘saints’ goodbye and walked past me. As he passed, I whispered, “Get your house in order, reverend.”

He smiled at me, that smug ‘you’ve got nothing on me’ smile that criminals always have, and whispered back, “I’ll be waiting.”

We left and headed for the precinct. I parked the car, and Lilly and I started across the skywalk to our building. About halfway across, Lilly turned and looked at me. 

“Did Mrs. Hendricks tears seem phony to you?”

“Uh, no? Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know. It seemed a bit convenient.”

“Lilly, you’re the one that understands emotions and all that…stuff. I’m instinctive. If you think it’s phony, why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because as long as the reverend was there, they wouldn’t budge. We need to look into the financials of Caster’s operation and the Hendricks.”

“Cool, let’s do it.”

The Murder Room was empty when we walked in. Janko’s office was empty as well. I sat on my side of the desk and opened my laptop. Lilly made coffee and poured us both a cup. She put it down on the desk and rolled her chair over next to mine. 

She watched me as I typed my request into the provided box, her eyes never left my hands. 

“I like your hands,” she murmured. I cut my eyes to her and gave her a grin-then I inspected my hands. 

They were veiny, and clumsy, in ways that I wished they weren’t. It was clear to me I didn’t see my hands the way she did. 

“Um, they’re hands. I don’t see anything special about them.”

“Well, let me tell you what I see. Your hands are thick with muscle, calloused, but gentle with the right person. I’ve seen you smash a hard fist into the face of a thug, but I’ve also seen you hold the hand of someone frightened. Your hands, like the rest of you, are complex and complicated. I love the mess you are, Konan. Ana Marie’s case is in good hands.”

I looked at my hands again, and I still didn’t see what she saw, but her words touched my heart. I love the mess you are, her voice sang in my ears. She smiled at me, and I smiled back. Underneath the desk, I pulled her foot to mine and met her eyes, out of sight of the video camera that watched all movement in the room. 

My heart raced, and I knew in this moment I was done for. Lilly was my one true love, and I’d do anything she asked me to. I was madly in love, and resistance was futile.

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