Saturday, May 02, 2009

Sunday Scribblings #161: Confession


A chapter from my first novel, Scarred Angels. The nefarious deeds...

A week later, Frank paid me a visit at the end of my shift, accompanied by a fat sandy-haired stranger in dreadful polyester. In addition to the state of his attire, the stranger had the look of someone who'd taken a few too many blows to the head. I would come to rue that appraisal in due course.

It was a tough call when I got to the booth. Frank was big. His friend was wide. I chose big and scooted in next to Frank. Meg came up behind me and slid three coffees across the table between us.

This decaf, honey?" said the stranger. Meg shook her head. "I gotta have decaf. That real stuff'll give me the jitters."

Frank draped a beefy arm behind me on the back of the booth. "Mac," he said, "meet Sgt. Clyde Miller. Sarge."

Meg interrupted the handshake with a cup of decaf and a tiny pitcher of milk. "Skim, right?" she said, to which the sergeant nodded briefly. He turned his coffee beige and then ripped open three packets of sugar. Dumped them in, but didn't stir. This was our ace in the hole?

He flashed a quick look at me. "You don't look like a boxer," he said.


"I was telling Frank on the way over about your daddy, how he used to coach the team over at the Army air base. They used to beat hell out of the citizens."

"You knew my father?" I said.

"Nah, he was way before my time. I ain't as old as I look. But, my uncle, now that's another story. Your daddy broke my uncle's nose back when they were both fighting in the old Catholic League. Anybody who knows anything about the fights knows about your daddy. He busted a lotta noses."

"Gee, and all this time I thought he was just a sky hero." I was trying to be smart, but I was actually hurting. It was odd to hear some stranger going on about someone I should have known something about. I'd seen the pictures of him and his boxing teams, his Spencer Tracy looks and the godawfulest looking bunch of human animals. It's a wonder they didn't eat their opponents. Still, those pictures were just that, pictures. For Sgt. Clyde Miller, my daddy was a living, breathing memory.

He slurped some of his liquid candy. "Hell, your daddy didn't need a crash to get a road named after him. That was a damn shame."

Funny, of all the things I might have said about my father's death, I never said that. It would have taken a lot less self pity on my part to get it out.

Clyde Miller got silent after this last sentiment, maybe in honor of my father, I don't know. He picked up another sugar packet and thwacked it against his palm. That called Meg over for refills.

Frank cut into the conversational lag. "Mac, it looks like Sarge has got the puzzle pieced together."

I looked over at Frank's mentor about to perform another triple sugar drop into his coffee and wondered how he could figure out anything.

Clyde Miller wasn't interested in any snide looks I might throw his way. He began his story. "The Central Catholic High thing was easy, it just popped out. The wedding thing, piece of cake, bunch of us got invited to the wedding anyway. Damnedest homily, all full of twelve syllable words. We're snoozing in the back of the church, but during the actual ceremony itself the little genius keeps calling the groom by the Captain's name. It's all groans and snorts from us in the background, but hey, we're not gonna make a federal case out of two guys being friends from way back. So the little prick got to be the Captain's XO and pissed off some other would be war hero. Nah, I needed more, and I knew the department was not where I was gonna get it."

He slurped his second cup of coffee, was about to thwack again for Meg, but she beat him to the punch with a brown mug, already prepared. "That's three sugars usually, ain't it?" she said.

He eyed the mug. "This size, I'd say five probably."

"I made it six. One to grow on." She actually raised a smile on the sergeant's face.

I tried to pick the story back up. "So, where did that leave you?"

He took a deep breath, stifled a belch. "You Catholic, Mac?"

"What, I don't look it?" I said.

"I'll take that as a yes. But what I gotta know is, how Catholic?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Hell, Mac, lemme spell it out for you. Most folks, you got sprinkled before you knew better. When you got older, the nuns scared hell out of you, but you liked the idea of dressing up for first communion, wondering was the Bishop gonna slap you or your friend Billy. CYO was a great way to meet girls. By the time you're old enough to know better, it's too much trouble to switch. It's like growing up a Democrat. Who the hell cares, as long as there's refreshments at the parties? That's the kind of Catholic I am. Frank, too. How about you, Mac?"

"What's CYO?" I said, smirking.

"Funny. Your pal's funny, Frank, you know that? And no, you don't look like a Catholic. Not any kind."

"What's my religion got to do with this, anyway?"

"Everything. What I know ain't pretty."

I thought of what I knew that Clyde Miller was a long way from ever knowing. "Not pretty, huh, Sarge?" I said. "You find some good decent priest willing to tell all?"

"Who needs decent? I needed someone who could cover the necessary years. That led me to Uncle Bertie."

Frank, who'd been sitting through all this with the loving attention of a disciple for his mentor, finally woke from his rapture. "Sarge, you never told me he was a relative."

Clyde Miller smiled at the refill Meg poured before him. "Father Albert Carmine is related to anyone who will sit and listen and ply him with the necessary Jack Daniels. I spent a week of evenings over at Sisters of Mercy watching him suck bourbon through a straw. Eighty years old, riddled with palsy, but his mind, God, what a garbage dump. Still smart as a whip, though. He's pissed, too. For years he was part of the royalty downtown at the Cathedral. Was in on it all. Quite a fall to be farmed out to a retirement home on the west side of town, at least as he sees it. The place itself ain't that bad, but the sisters can't stand him, and the feeling's mutual. So, while he drooled bourbon I had to hear all about the nuns, the asshole Archbishop Schultz who farmed him out, and his old pal the eminent Archbishop Cannon, no longer a pal because he never visits from his pricier digs across town. After all that, I wiped his chin, and we got down to the business of the Captain and his smutty friend Bastrop."

I was beginning to wonder if I'd have to wipe Sarge's chin first, too, but he did it for me. His table manners matched his polyester. Sitting in that crowded booth, I was getting irritable. The bullshit was killing me.

Sarge could tell. "Hey, Bollinger, you're not a patient man. Good thing you're not a cop. You ready for the goodies?"

"Humor me," I said. "I got a meeting at six."

"They got 'em around the clock is what I hear." It was just a quick slap to remind me to mind my manners. He went on.

"Apparently, Bastrop was old Cannon's boy from way back. Even before his warrior days in high school. Bertie never spelled it out, but he sure did enough winking and snuffling to make sure I got the drift. Turns out, as smart as Bastrop was, Notre Dame took a pass on him first time around."

I was shocked. "He was good enough for three Ivy League schools, but the Irish said take a hike?"

"Yeah, I wondered about that, too, but then I took another look at the yearbook. Edited, and largely photographed, I might add, by Bastrop himself. The Ivy League stuff never happened. As editor, he could type in whatever he wanted."

"So I take it Notre Dame was bullshit, too?"

"As it stood in the yearbook, yes. But he did finally get the scholarship, after Cannon raised a holy stink with some friends up there."

"How the hell did Bertie know all this?" I said.

Sarge smiled. "He offered to write a letter for Cannon during the first go-round and purposely never did. He couldn't stand Bastrop."

"That's one for Uncle Bertie," I said, but Sarge could care less about my opinions by then. Meg was taking good care of him, but I had not been a very hospitable, or grateful, host. He rolled on.

"Anyway, golden boy returned triumphant some years later, academically and spiritually anointed. Papa Cannon said he wanted Bastrop downtown with him, but that wasn't in Bastrop's plans. He wanted some turf of his own uptown, so the doting father gave him St. Peter. You know the place?"

I knew the place, smack in the middle of my old stomping grounds of Alamo Heights. My mother and I never went there. I think she thought it was too rich for us. "Kind of a long fall from St. Peter to St. Ann," I said. "What happened?"

Sarge set his tiny hands on the table. "All in good time," he said, laying emphasis on the last word and daring me to get smart. "First we gotta catch up with the Captain."

I looked at him, feigning patience. He shook his head and glanced at Frank. "I'm not sure your friend here deserves all this," he said.

Frank squeezed the back of my neck. "Aw, Sarge, give ole Mac a break. He's just never had the pleasure of a gifted storyteller like yourself. Right, Mac?"

"Right," I said, wincing from Frank's hand on my neck. Six years of listening to Marvin go on about Lawrence Welk apparently counted for nothing.

Sarge was not appeased, but he kept on anyway. "Seems Bastrop ain't the only one inventing his past life."

I cut in. "Boston College just a cover story for Harry Carson?"

"Not exactly. He got up there. Just never stayed. He knocked some girl up, high school girl, his freshman year, then hightailed it on down here with her to get married, make a go of it. A big mess, but all taken care of through the intercessions of Papa Cannon. Acting, of course, as a favor for his golden boy up in South Bend."

"So what," I said. "So Harry Carson marries early, then turns into a big time family man. Eight kids later he's canonized."

"Cannonized is right, three n's, not two. Remember, we're inventing lives here. That little girl wasn't the current Mrs. Carson. She was the first. After a year's go of it, she and the kid went off into the night. Haven't been heard of since and as far as the Church was concerned, they never existed in the first place. The Captain finished law enforcement school up in San Marcos, brought home a fiancée from Galveston, and with a little noodling amongst Archbishops, they had themselves a big fancy wedding in the Cathedral in Houston. Bertie rode over in the Cadillac with Papa Cannon and his visiting protege from up North. Bertie was pissed. He had to ride up front with the driver."

"Spare me the details," I said, getting nauseous.

"Nothing to spare," said Sarge. "Bertie never went beyond his winks and snuffles on that count. Anyway, story dries up—"

"Dries up!" I shrieked. "You mean to tell me this is your vaunted puzzle?"

Frank's hand was back on my neck. "Easy, Mac," he said. "You really oughta give Sarge a break."

"Sorry," I said, not meaning it. Clyde Miller's hands were back on the table. I noticed he softly tapped each finger in succession. Frank told me later that's how Clyde counts to ten when he's pissed off. If I remember correctly, he must have counted to thirty sitting across from me. I'm sure he didn't continue for my sake.

"It's another few years before things get smelly again. Long honeymoons for both, you might say. Then the big one falls on Bastrop. Some parishioner's daughter spills to her daddy that the holy reverend is arranging private counseling meetings to take artsy photos of her and some of the other kids. In the buff. Bertie snickered about this one a long time. Apparently the good Father was going on all the time in his homilies about the sacred beauty of the human form. Pretty progressive stuff until the little naked pilgrim spilled the beans. Papa Cannon was beside himself, as you can imagine. As Bertie tells it, though, not for any of the right reasons. This little girl's daddy was forking over plenty for renovation and expansion of the Cathedral. That's where rising star Detective Sergeant Harry Carson came in. Time to return a favor. He dug deep and came up with enough dirt and muscle to shut the father up, provided Bastrop got buried."

"Which was where?" I said, polite now, attentive.

Clyde took note of my shift in tone, and smiled briefly. Somewhat sadly, too. This was, after all, his sainted boss he was dismembering. "Papa Cannon sent Bastrop to the Ivies this time. Yale Divinity School. Bastrop announced to his flock that he was off on sabbatical to study some mystery hoopla. Packed his cameras and left."

"Hell of a punishment," said Frank. "Cost of developing supplies and film must be outrageous up North."

"It's still a long way from Yale to St. Ann," I said. Not pushy, just interested.

"Papa Cannon brought him home eventually. Kept him downtown, then they had a falling out and Papa sent him to the sticks. Godawful parishes."

"What was the big split?" I asked.

Sarge shrugged his shoulders. "Try as he might, even Bertie could never get the answer to that one. But needless to say, Bastrop didn't wait around for reconciliations. Somewhere along the way, he hooked up with the holy reverend CPA Larry Kestor, who was already in big with then Monsignor Schultz while he was organizing the palace revolt. So, Schultz squeezed old Papa Cannon out with help from Rome, ascended in his place, and positioned Kestor for the time being at St. Ann, while he cleaned house. Kestor was happy to give Bastrop a kingdom to play with as long as it freed him up to lunch with his pals down at La Louisianne. Bastrop, obviously, could give a shit about palace politics. He's a businessman. All he needed was a steady supply of naked orphans."

Sarge, who'd been tearing through his story like a greyhound in pursuit of a metal rabbit, stopped on a dime. I wasn't sure he was finished at first, so I kept my mouth shut, waiting, looking for clues. He just sat there, fiddling with his brown mug, laying a hand over it when Meg came with her umpteenth refill. I got the impression that Clyde Miller was like a mole, happiest digging underground, not too keen on the light of day. Probably accounted for why, after twenty years on the force, he was still mucking around as a sergeant on the night shift. During that moment of silence, I warmed to the man, sensing this meeting had been a real stretch for him, that his coming was a measure of his affection for Frank. When after another thirty seconds' fiddling with the mug it was clear the story was over, I spoke.

"It seems an open and shut case to me."

Sarge grinned wryly at his partner. "God save me, Frank, we've got more of a real Catholic than I ever imagined."

"I don't get it," I said.

"Obviously, Bollinger, you believe in a lot more of what I call the Big Crap. You know: infallible Popes, Friday fish, Truth, Justice, that Oswald killed Kennedy all by himself. Open and shut cases. My ass. No such thing, altar boy."

Foolishly, I responded. "You've got a chief of vice confiscating evidence of child pornography, shutting down the case on an old friend that goes way back, a friend he's bailed out more than once. Furthermore, turns out this same chief, Mr. Antismut, is the fucking hit man for the Church of the Holy Pedophile. Forgive them father, they know not what they do, just send them down to the Valley to wiggle it at the little wetback kids who won't know any better. This doesn't stink enough for you, Sarge?"

"Oh, it stinks plenty. But, tell me, Bollinger, who you gonna tell all this to?"

"Hell, I don't know. The D.A., FBI, the papers, for chrissakes."

"Hey, Bollinger, wake up. They already know."

That one felt like a blow to the head. I just looked at him.

"You citizens," he said, softly now, all full of bedside manner for a dying patient—or, in this case, a dying illusion. "You think all this law and order pomp is to catch the bad guys, cuz that's what we do. Well, it certainly helps the PR and nails down the federal matching funds. But, I'm telling you, altar boy, what we're really there for is to help the big guys out of a tight jam when some nosy janitor goes prying into their business."

Frank was squirming during this last speech, one he'd obviously heard before. "Not all of us happen to agree with Sarge's philosophizing, Mac. You're getting his dark side now."

"Frank's still a rookie," said Sarge.

I flailed a few verbal jabs Sarge's way. "Don't give me that crap, Clyde. What are you doing in a job that stinks that bad?"

He smiled back at me, that heartbreaking, sad smile. "Up until a few years ago, I was a rookie, too. What's that our cop shrink always says? 'Denial's a tough nut to crack.' Well, Mac, I still ain't fully cracked. My loss, I'm sure."

"So why tell me all this, why go looking for it in the first place? You could have saved a few bucks on booze bribes and not had to wipe the drool off an aging priest."

"It's a curse, Mac. You know, Frank tells me you're a true city boy, never been hunting. Take quail, for instance. You and a good point dog. A good one, he's wired tight, his whole purpose for living is to get your fat ass out in the brush and freeze when he finds you a covey. His body and soul are there, knocking on heaven's door for you. Does he want you to pull the trigger? Maybe. Would he like to chow down on the treasure? Absolutely. But there he is, still, motionless, more beautiful than any statue in your fancy museums. Well, twenty years ago, Mac, when I graduated first in my class in the academy and was willing to die for the opportunity to make detective, I knew I'd found my purpose for living. Take Keegan, the best dog I ever had, he was fourteen years old and peeing on himself, but if I took him into the hills, he was ageless. That's me, Mac. I'm forty-two years old, peeing all over myself with grief, but put me anywhere near something that needs figuring out, I'm like Keegan, I can't help myself."

Bitterly, I laughed. "Hell, Clyde, you need a higher power."



Blogger anno said...

This one is awfully dark, paschal, a perfect match for your current background. Perfect pitch, though, in the dialogue between Clyde and Mac, and I loved the shift to warmer regard that came right at the end. This one's begging to be staged: you are working on the script, right?

3:48 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Anno: Dark indeed, and all based on a church scandal that went down just around the block in my old New Orleans neighborhood, at the church whose bells woke me every morning at 6. Transplanted here to SA, while I was living in NOLA. When I hauled this out of the archives this morning, it was odd to realize that this piece was written 15 years ago.

Back when I was sure Scarred Angels would sell for megabucks, complete with movie rights, I spent many a fantasy "casting" the movie. At my last casting call, I believe I settled on Ed Harris for Mac, Ned Beatty for Clyde (mind, it's been ten years since I was casting), and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos as Frank. I pegged Jeremy Irons as the nefarious priest John Bastrop.

5:02 PM  
Blogger Tumblewords: said...

Great writing - dialog shines and characters are vivid. Is it time to give it another push to publishers? Seems like it has fine bones!

6:48 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Thank you again, Tumblewords. Would that you were the one of the folks I sent this to those many years ago. I fear I do not have the constitution for Round IV.

Bless, though, the almighty Blog, that will accept any and all supplicants...

7:47 PM  
Blogger AD said...

that was so darkkkkkkkkkkkkkk and so longggggggggggggggg!!! wow!

Happy Sunday

5:19 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Ms Desi: You have me on both counts: dark and long it is. Thank you for giving your time to it.

11:11 AM  
Blogger anno said...

mmmmmm.... Jeremy Irons. I've been known to listen to The Lion King just to hear his voice. And matched with Ed Harris? Now there's an irresistible combination. When is this one being released?

4:58 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Anno: Coming soon, to an imagination near you...

5:03 PM  
Blogger present said...

A great read from start to finish Pashal. The details are a pleasure...
"He slurped some of his liquid candy. "Hell, your daddy didn't need a crash to get a road named after him. That was a damn shame."
"Clyde Miller's hands were back on the table. I noticed he softly tapped each finger in succession. Frank told me later that's how Clyde counts to ten when he's pissed off. If I remember correctly, he must have counted to thirty sitting across from me." and especially,
"That's me, Mac. I'm forty-two years old, peeing all over myself with grief, but put me anywhere near something that needs figuring out, I'm like Keegan, I can't help myself."
Bitterly, I laughed. "Hell, Clyde, you need a higher power."

I really enjoyed the dialogue! Wish I could do it!

9:21 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

present: It's good to have you back! Thanks for taking the time to plow through this. I took a look at shorter excerpts (must be a lotta confessions in the paschal fiction archives!), but I was enjoying this Chapter 14 read, so settled in and passed it on.

10:04 PM  
Blogger alister said...

You are the master of smart, tough dialogue!!! I love this stuff. It triggered a memory of your Charles and Ris piece which I loved as much as this. I guess the mental marker is to do with the same kind of tension between guys that can’t stand each other, that only tolerate each other’s presence. I find that so amusing and you capture that amusing thing to me so consummately. Charles tolerates Chester-the-dog Ris, just long enough to seize his opportunity to ditch the guy. And Bollinger and Miller just barely tolerate each other like they’re pots on a stove on medium high, and one notch up will blow boiling water in everyone’s faces. This "Scarred Angels" bit was timed about perfectly for the ESC study of character. In this dialogue I got all the numbers of these guys and really, really dug getting the dreadful-polyester-man’s number: small-handed, damaged-goods gotta feed his ego something so he gives it big fat helpings of quail-flushing martyrdom. I wish, wish, wish, though, that you’d filled in the names of the characters toward the end. After “…Bastrop got buried,” I lost some of the groove with all them bullet holes sprayed ‘round, got unnerved by it, you know? But, hell, Paschal, you da dialogue man, hands down, no question, none at all. Super-hot! :-D

6:42 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Lady A: A big hunka one late chapter of Scarred Angels, for sure. During my re-read, I kept looking for the cut-off point, and then just decided on the whole hog. None of the major distaff characters even show up here, much less get alluded to: Mac's co-protagonista Agnes, Bastrop's co-pornographer's (and Mac's femme fatale) Charlotte Hunter, and the inevitable Yemaya figure Daltry, who reigns over the parochial school kitchen where Mac works: reigns over his conscience, too.

Thank you for the props a la dialogue. It's funny to think back to the early daze 17 years ago. My 39th birthday present was to see if I could write myself a short story. Dialogue scared the hell out of me so much that my first 6 stories were all essentially dramatic monologues: the first person narrators recounting the stories as if they were whispering to themselves. If anything, the one continuing ed writing class I took at Loyola back then was the time when I broke through the dialogue barrier. It came to me that it's all a rhythmic thing, the appearance of realism, but really a poetry of its own, told in beats, conveying much with as little as possible.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Dee Martin said...

This is my first visit but it won't be my last! I was hooked from the first line. Curious - did you create the image at the beginning? Love that too!

9:06 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Good to see you, Ms Dee, and welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed the Scarred Angel banter.

The image is not mine, but I found it much more intriguing than all the other "confessional" images.

Best wishes to you: we'll see you again soon.

10:38 AM  
Blogger MichaelO said...

This was a fantastic scene, Paschal. I'll quickly reiterate others props on the dialogue. It flowed effortlessly. You carried the characters nuances through every traded line. Not an easy thing to do I imagine. Yes, how is the screenplay coming?!

2:35 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Michael: Thanks for the props, and thanks for schlogging through the pages. I'm too lazy for the screenplay, though I have thought of turning it into a play - likely too lazy for that, too, though. I have two new writing projects in mind for the summer: an entirely different play and flushing out the next novel that I think is lurking around the edges.

My wife has talked of doing the Scarred Angels screenplay, but she's locked into her own extended writing project right now. I might have to turn the project over to Blue the WonderDog...

Best wishes to you.

7:06 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home