PROLOGUE   Many years before…


The victim’s scream: it is intensely shrill and unnerving.  It was her cry for help, her pleading for life.

It was something Sam could never erase from his troubled mind, a flashback that often replayed as his thoughts drifted back – a torturous daydream, an instant mood changer, bringing a flood of guilt.

When he heard her screams, he was at first overwhelmed with uncertainty – his vision blurred – sounds distant – pain surging in his legs – fear rising.  There in front of him he saw a crushed car and a young woman sitting upright with blood streaming down her face.  He heard a hissing noise and then one sound became more recognizable – a baby crying.  There was a loud popping and a sudden flash of heat.  Flames began licking at the edge of her car’s crumpled hood. Shattered glass was everywhere.

And then her screaming began. 

The torture of a human being unfolded in slow motion before Sam’s eyes and consumed his bewildered mind.  That scene would haunt him continually, even affecting the rest of his life.

Yes, it was a terrible, unfortunate accident. But how did it happen, what was the cause, and who was to blame? And what about the child?




CHAPTER ONE: Arrest and Arson



Wednesday, May 8, 1985 – day one.


In Walthem, Pennsylvania, the young Samuel Urban was known as the people’s judge, the District 12 Magistrate. The small town nestled in a narrow valley along the Susquehanna River had a population of 11,398 at the time of the last census. A handmade plaque hung in Sam’s office to remind him daily of his purpose.  It stated, “Rule – with diligence. Show Mercy – with cheerfulness.”  The sign arrived unexpectedly in a padded envelope.  There was no return address and no note to identify the sender. It seemed that someone was observing Sam, watching him very closely from a safe distance, anonymously.  He and his office staff waited for the author of those words to identify him or herself.  Eventually they lost track of the time that elapsed, but it was more than a year, the mystery remained, and soon enough, the need for the sender’s identity was forgotten.

Sam looked at those words frequently and reflected on them.  His was a difficult job that required political finesse.  The system often required one thing while his heart urged him to do something else.  This happened as he heard the plight of those who were downtrodden and most often already strapped financially. They could not afford to pay another fine or lose time from work. Even worse would be the effect of a recorded conviction on them.

These were past friends, the kids he went to school with, the gang that he conspired with to steal beer, the ones he partied with on weekends. Good times, fondly remembered.

Yes, everyone got older, some matured, and each took a different path in life. Sam knew he got some lucky breaks, but not so with the familiar but aged faces he saw in his courtroom. He couldn’t help but to feel pity for them.

 This judge felt like he lived in the middle, somewhere between justice and required retribution. And if his clients felt scorned by his rulings, they would soon have the opportunity, as his constituents, to vote him out of office. That was the system.

But worse, Sam faced a former classmate and girlfriend, Faith Culver, who targeted him, accusing him of a crime he believed he was innocent of. He didn’t understand why she was doing it. How could she, a longtime friend?

But this wasn’t the first time he was in trouble with the law.

He mentioned the incident to his girlfriend, Jodi Culp, but didn’t elaborate. He knew that an investigation was underway, but hoped that the whole thing would just blow over, and quickly.


Sam and I have been dating for nearly four years. Yes, I know that he had some trouble in his past, but the criminal record was supposedly expunged. My guy is thoughtful and kind, sometimes too serious, but can also make me laugh at the drop of a hat. That’s when he isn’t overly concerned about a problem. Lately though, something more is bothering him. He seems distant.

He's the kind of guy that you believe in and hang on to. He has a good heart. So, I have remained committed to him, though sometimes I wonder why he hasn’t proposed… yet. It’s been good, mostly good…well, in reality, if I were to be honest with myself, I’d have to admit that things are going just a little better than okay right now.  

I’m tired of the daily grind. He has his work and I have mine, not the job I wanted, and often I feel insignificant. Yeah, he’s kind of a big shot, and sometimes I think he gets off on it. But he’s entitled to it, right? It hasn’t always been easy for him.

But what about me, does he know that I am feeling impatient?  Does he even care? With a proposal we could begin to finalize our future, nail things down with a firm commitment, even if the big day is still a couple of years off.  As his long-term girlfriend, I need that – a firm commitment. A feeling of finality. Certainty.


And then the events of that fateful morning, Wednesday, May 8, 1985, came upon them like a sudden and unexpected storm of huge proportions – a personal tsunami! They were about to be swept into a sea of uncertainty and be lost, drifting about without an anchor or sail to be steadfast or directed. 

Sam intended to go to the office late that morning. It didn’t open to the public until 1PM. He just stepped out of the shower and was drying himself when the banging began. Jodi was pounding on the back door of his upstairs apartment.


“Hold on. Just a minute,” he shouted as he wrapped a towel around his waist. He darted for the kitchen, water dripping on the linoleum floor, his hair wet and disheveled.

“Sam!  They’re coming for you!” I yelled through the glass of the door still closed. My words smashed through the quiet of his morning.

“Jodi, slow down.  What are you talking about?” Sam fidgeted with the deadbolt that seemed to be stuck, then rubbed the sides of his forehead.  His stress was on display. It was obvious to me. His face turned bright red as his heart pounded hard, blood pressure surging.

“Sam! They’re out for you.  With a warrant.  They are charging you… again!”

As Sam unlocked the door I barged through, accidently slamming it against the side of the refrigerator.  “My friend at the newspaper called me. It came over the scanner as the sergeant was calling her boss to inform him of your arraignment.  They want lots of press. It’s all set up.” 

Sam looked puzzled.

“You’re going to be arrested!” My voice began to quiver despite my shouting. I felt a bit nauseous. Fear was beginning to overwhelm me. “The cops will be here any minute!”

Sam stood in the center of the room motionless, his gaze fixed upon the window in the rear wall behind the dinette table. It afforded a view from his second-story landing. Time stalled as I observed him. He was watching something outside.

“Sam! What are you doing?” I bit my lower lip hard enough to taste the bitterness of blood and squinted to hold back the tears that were beginning to overwhelm me. I was losing it. “Sam, are you okay?”

I turned to see what was holding his attention. Beyond the glass, a squirrel scampered along a tree limb that shuttered under its weight. Its quest portrayed a carefree life. In that moment, the scene felt sarcastic, even ironic.

“You have to do something. Sam! Wake up!” A tear trickled down my cheek as another ran to the tip of my nose.

Suddenly, he realized that he was naked. “I have to get dressed.” He turned, and without another word, walked to his bedroom. When he returned a few minutes later, I was standing near the kitchen sink, an empty coffee mug in my hand. The faucet was running. Tears welled in my eyes.

“Where’s the coffee?”

He placed the filter in the coffee machine and counted out six heaping teaspoons of ground Columbian beans, a robust brew. As he held the carafe under the running water his hand began to tremble. He steadied his arm with his left hand and turned the faucet off at the indicated measurement of seven cups.

Several minutes passed and he didn’t speak a word to me. I sat at the table; my face buried in my hands. My body shook slightly and Sam knew I was crying softly, trying to hide it, to not be intrusive.

“Here, this will help.”

As I raised my head, he poured the freshly brewed, hot coffee into my mug. Its steam burned in the tip of my nose. A welcome, needed stimulant.

“Tell them to wait,” he instructed in a firm monotone as he stood beside me.  “I’ll be back in ten minutes. And I don’t want them coming to my courtroom. But before I see them, I have to get something.”

“Okay, I’ll try to hold them here,” I volunteered, but inside I was feeling reluctant and uncertain. Not seeing a box of tissues, I wiped at my eyes with my sleeve.  “I’ll tell them that I just talked to you. You were at your office. But you’re on your way back here. You’ve already left, so they may as well wait… Right?”

“Good. That should work. I’m headed out the door right now.” Tension was obvious in his voice. “Thanks, Jodi,” the words fell behind him as he bolted for the exit.  But then he suddenly stopped in his tracks. “Can I take your car? Mine is parked out front.”

“Sure.” I tossed him my keys. “It’s around the corner on State Street.”

“Thanks, mine are on the hook where I always keep them.”

“I’m sorry.”

He paused and our eyes met, connecting us on a deeper level.  I felt desire for him – but was it that of a lover, or maternal instinct?

“I’m so, so sorry,” I repeated.

He nodded and then, without another word, Sam disappeared as he sprinted through the rear door.

I wondered when I would see him again, and under what circumstances. “Sam, be careful.” I felt empty, knowing that my words were inadequate for the moment. The predecessor of loneliness gripped me. Fear, doubt.


But Jodi’s farewell was like a distant echo in Sam’s ears. More relevant questions were pressing upon him. Arrest? What is the charge? Sexual assault – it must be sexual assault. But a rape charge from Faith Culver? How could she? The question plagued him. Why?

Expecting to soon be incarcerated, he was beginning to realize the inconvenience, the restriction, the loss of freedom he faced. There was a letter he still needed to read. It remained on his desk at his office.


Sirens wailed as the state police cruiser raced down Route 11.  They were sent to get their man, the one they despised. Their retaliation was, in their opinion, long overdue.

An officer smiled with glee, riding shotgun and holding the arrest warrant. “Are you sure he will be home?” he asked the other trooper.

“Should be. Neighbor said his car is parked on the street.” The cop was happy about their plan to remove the liberal judge. Urban often embarrassed them in his courtroom. “Can’t wait to see the look on his face. He’s had this coming for a long time.”

“Yea.  Think I’ll address him as ‘judge’, just to emphasize the farce that he is…  ‘Judge, you’re under arrest… again!’” he rehearsed.  “Has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?” He raised his hand for a fist bump. “Let’s get him.”

“He’s going to be arraigned today?” his partner inquired after a moment of silence and continued, “hope the press has been given ample notice to attend all the festivities.”

“Oh yea. Sarge took care of that. It should be a real picnic!  I can’t wait to see the front page of tomorrow’s paper.”


When Sam returned to his apartment, Jodi was gone, but the police were waiting for him. He surrendered without resistance. The events that followed later became a mishmash of fast-moving images and loud sounds in his memory bank: angry faces, threatening words, handcuffs, a siren, strobing lights of red and blue, people pushing and shoving, shouting voices with insinuating inquiry, the white explosions of camera flashes, accusations, arguments, and finally the hammering of the judge’s gavel. 

It was that final courtroom sound that crashed in Sam’s brain and lingered there.

 He was arrested and arraigned by a friend and colleague, another magistrate he knew all too well.


Sitting alone in the holding cell at the rear of the municipal police station it all swirled in his head, aching with pain.  Sam vaguely recalled the proclamation of bail temporarily withheld and the hand to shoulder hug of his dear friend and defense attorney, Jared McCabe, promising to have him released by morning. 

“Poor Jodi,” he mumbled to himself as his mind shifted. He needed to hear her words of comfort. She was always sympathetic toward his concerns, even patient with his mood swings. “My gawd,” he whispered, “what must she be going through?” Sam last saw her at his apartment, just before he ran out, headed for his office.

Sam went to the office to retrieve a note that arrived the day before.  It was one in a series of notes that he held in confidence.  Even Jodi didn’t know about them. 

He kept them stored away and hidden in a small box placed in the back of his desk’s filing drawer. It was disguised by the clutter of other items that lacked relevance – old seals and notary stamps. But this note arrived only yesterday.  Recognizing the handwriting that addressed the envelope, Sam quickly slid it under the mat on his desk, intending to open it at the end of his work day, but was then distracted and left for home, leaving it unsecured there. 

Sam wondered why and how another note would have arrived just before his arrest. It seemed an unlikely coincidence. Did someone know more about what happened than he did? Could that person help him understand or expose the truth about the events described in the arrest warrant? The night of the alleged assault - much of it was still a blur – and he had a limited recollection of it.

As he stood quickly and searched his front pants pockets, he recalled emptying them onto the counter just before his mug shot and fingerprinting. The note, folded in half, had been pressed tightly into his left rear pocket.  He was processed and surrendered his wallet and comb. He was then patted down. But the note remained, momentarily forgotten and unnoticed.

As he sorted through these details, Sam reached for it. Like others received in recent months, words were simply printed in black ink with block letters on a plain sheet of white paper.

“My life is as a role that I am playing in a skit – a certain time and circumstance in this world.  It is where I live now, but like an actor in a TV movie, this show will soon end, and the influence of it will quickly pass away.

How truly relevant is it all?”

Sam could relate. Tears welled in the corners of his eyes.  He continued reading.

“Loved ones: how I long to see joy dancing in their eyes once again. As I consider the loss of such, I am overwhelmed with sorrow.  Their pain hurts me even more.”

Jodi’s smile flashed before his mind’s eye. A sob burst out of his throat, unsolicited.

The note was signed as the others: “Your Advocate.”

Whatever was to happen to him, Sam knew that he had to protect the woman he loved.

“This too will pass,” he softly spoke words of assurance to himself. “But there is going to be hell to pay, I just know it. I have to survive – but how?  I’m only human.” Self-pity charged in.


But who was this “Advocate”? Was he trying to encourage Sam or redirect his thoughts, and did he know in advance that Sam would be arrested?


At 64 Church Street a widow, Jen Foster, had just finished a conversation with her sister, Karen Jackson, one of the bigwigs in town. They talked about Sam, the young judge taken into custody. It was the morning’s hot gossip that had rung many telephones in town.

The sisters agreed on the irony of it all, especially since Sam had been arrested once before. He had been charged with vehicular homicide in the death of Darcy Rogers. She was the young woman who was severely burned and later died from injuries received in the auto accident that also involved Sam. The memory of her was the ghost that still haunted many people in Walthem.

Sam was accused of being negligent and responsible for Darcy’s death, but Jen wasn’t so sure the accusation was justified. Sam faced a felony charge and jail time, but Jen thought he did not deserve it. Now, the news of his arrest was upsetting her again.

In the months prior to the crash, Jen had received letters from Darcy, who was her close friend. The letters contained information that blamed someone else for Darcy’s troubled life.  Her demise was untimely and surely unfortunate, but Jen’s anger was directed toward that other person, the one identified in Darcy’s letters. 

After ending the call with Karen, she went to find them. She wanted Sam to finally know everything about Darcy. Somehow, she hoped it might help him.

They were stored, hidden away in a shoebox, on the top shelf of her bedroom closet. Jen placed them in a large manilla envelope, strode outside to her mailbox, straddled the deep mud puddle formed by the front tire of the mailman’s jeep, left the package inside, and raised the sender’s flag. Since he was once again incarcerated, Jen mailed the letters she had received from Darcy to Jodi, Sam’s girlfriend.


In another place, a large two-story brick house, the rectory in which Father Jacob resided, the telephone remained silent as the off-duty clergyman watched the morning newscast on his television set.  He was still dressed in his silk pajamas topped off with a striped smoking jacket.  His vest pocket contained two Cuban cigars, still in their wrappers.

His housekeeper was busy in the kitchen finishing the dishes after serving him breakfast. Jacob looked toward her with contemplation as he closely observed the swaying of her body, but did not speak a word to reveal his lustful desire. She was as a professional to ethics, chaste as a woman, and uncompromising in her belief of the priestly vow, so he usually spoke to her fondly, in a tone expressing empathy. Sometimes he pushed it, and became suggestive. But she wasn’t about to make the same mistake Darcy Rogers, his former housekeeper, had made.

The clergyman’s advances went on, day after day, without acknowledgement.  When he touched her clothing, she promptly slapped his hand.

Jacob turned to look at a small framed photograph that stood among reference books and decorative bookends in what he referred to as his library with prideful acclaim. The photograph did not stand out, as if demanding recognition, but blended with its surroundings. Visitors seldom acknowledged it, and that was fine with this priest who didn’t want to expound on its significance.  Pictured was Darcy, as an attractive young woman, a single mother holding her little boy, a toddler, riding on his mother’s hip, and smiling broadly. The photograph expressed joy, and although the memory was fond for Jacob, it presently stirred anger within him.  His dear Darcy had suffered a terrible fate, perishing in that fiery crash many years ago. The picture served not as a reminder of happy times, but as a directive for revenge.

The priest refilled his tall glass with red wine from a decanter kept on a mirrored tray at the sideboard and again looked at the telephone on the coffee table. He tapped his fingers there. He was becoming impatient, waiting for his call.

Finally, the cordless phone rattled and he grabbed it before the third ring.

“Hello, Father Jacob here.”

“You can drop the formality with me,” was the curt reply.

“Karen!” the priest responded, “I hope it is good news.”

“Surely. By now you should have confidence in me.  I have clout.” Karen Jackson was an elected official in the district and the eldest of Jacob’s two sisters, Jen Foster being the youngest among the siblings.

“Oh yes, I know that you are very capable.”

“Sure, but now we have another matter of urgent concern.”

“What’s that?”

“Jen!” She paused for emphasis.  “Our dear sister is upset after a neighbor gave her the scoop on Sam - told her that he was setup and is being framed again. It’s just local gossip!”

“Damn the talk in this town!” Jacob roared.  “Why would she believe that load of crap?  And what does Jen know anyway?”

“Beats me. She didn’t tell me anything specific.”

“She’s got nothing on me.”

“Really, how can you be so sure.”

“Because I didn’t do anything.”

“Maybe,” Karen reasoned. “But I don’t believe you. I know you too well. And apparently our dear sister knows more than we think. She had been receiving letters from Darcy Rogers and apparently, she has suspicions about you.”

“What do you mean? What would she suspect me of?” The self-righteous clergyman cleared his throat and tugged on the front-bottom edge of his jacket to eliminate its wrinkles.  He regarded himself as refined and superior to most others. He remembered his deepest secret and for a brief moment feared that he could be exposed.

“I don’t know, but she knows you all too well.”

The priest scratched at a sudden itch, the bald spot at the back of his head, and accidently displaced his glasses. They began to fall but were caught on the precipice of his large nose where his nostrils flared.

“What did Darcy say in those letters?”

“Jen didn’t say. But now she is pointing the finger at you.”

“For what? She’s got nothing.  There’s no reason for her to suggest anything. Besides,” he was quick to calculate, “how do you know all of this?”

“She just called me, you big baboon!  I just got off the phone with her. How else would I know?!” the local dignitary raised her voice to show irritation. “Jen called me early, just before I left for the office. She still trusts me,” Karen paused, “and wanted to talk to me about her concerns.”

“I don’t believe it!  Why would Darcy write to her?  Darcy’s accident was nearly twenty years ago,” the priest continued as he sought understanding from Karen. “Why would it matter now?”

“I’m just as bewildered about the letters as you are… I don’t know what’s in them.” She redirected, “Well, maybe Jen was just blowing off some steam… but I’m sick and tired of her whining.”

Karen Jackson brokered authority like Elizabeth, the Queen of England, and she expressed disgust for those who showed weakness. “But you didn’t exactly do right by that poor girl.”

“Yes, I did!”

“In your eyes,” his sister shot back. “It would appear quite different to a woman’s perspective. Overworked and under paid.”

“So, what are you driving at?  What are you trying to say in all this jabbering?”

“No loose ends!” she yelled to emphasize her demand. “Get those damn letters!” 

Karen did not know that they were no longer in Jen’s house. They had already been placed in her mailbox, waiting for the mailman to pick up the package directed to Jodi and intended for Sam.


“And how do you think I can get the letters?” Jacob demanded as he continued to query Karen. “How do you suggest I accomplish that?”

“Send your man, your janitor. Isn’t he the one that does all of your dirty work?”

Jacob was silenced by the suggestion.

“Isn’t he the one that set it up with that floozy?”

“Floozy? Oh, you mean Faith… Faith Culver,” Jacob clarified as the priest found his voice again.  “She’s my janitor’s girlfriend. But hey, Urban is being charged, isn’t he?”

“Yes, of course, as I already told you, that is taken care of.  But I still don’t understand why you have it out for him so much.”

“He killed someone.”

“It was an accident.”

“He was negligent.”

“But found innocent. Well,” Karen concluded, “I don’t know what your beef is, but from my perspective, he does not serve the Commonwealth very well. He is the worst judge in the state and the cops want him gone, so, I’m going along with you, at least for now.”

“My sincere appreciation for your efforts,” Jacob replied, attempting to change the tone of the conversation. “And thank you.”

“Don’t thank me.  And remember, this conversation never happened. If you’re exposed, I’ll have nothing to do with your morbid affairs. All I can say is, I hope this will finally bring you some closure. You have been a mess, so consumed by your guilt.”

“What? I’m not guilty of anything!”

“You better not be.”

“What about the election?” the priest sought reassurance hurriedly, as he sensed that the call was about to end abruptly.

“We will have a write-in candidate, probably a local cop who is adored by the people in his precinct.  Besides,” she continued, “it doesn’t matter once Urban is convicted.”

“No need to say more,” Father Jacob felt gratified. “And again, thanks.”

The other end of the connection was already dead. He placed the cordless back on the table, lost in the plotting of revenge. Proud and arrogant as he was, Jacob quickly shunned off the idea of his younger sister, Jen, being a serious threat. Still, he knew that Karen would have to be appeased. She’d be checking in again and demanding more answers, especially in regard to the letters.

After talking with his sister and cohort, the priest went looking for his janitor. Jacob walked through the sanctuary before exiting the rear of the church through a supply room. Luke Stolarick was there, in the rear of the parking lot, burning rubbish in an old oil barrel. Jacob eyed him suspiciously and saw a frown of disapproval unfurl, eyebrows lowered, his forehead creased.

Jacob had offered many assurances the last time he needed a favor from Luke. The plot they hatched then required much from Faith, Luke’s girlfriend. It would be her detailed testimony that would convince a jury to convict the judge of rape.  It all depended on her, so Jacob had given directives, very specific, to be followed precisely.  Faith would have to be a good actress and she would be well compensated for an Oscar performance.

Although Faith was once close to Sam, she was now jealous of his relationship with Jodi, and the money she was to be paid was enough to make her willing to hurt an old friend.

Luke was in a tight spot as Jacob could have his bail revoked if he refused to follow an order.  That meant a reservation at the Big House.  He and Faith had to toe the line.  The priest held all the cards. And, the financial incentive finally persuaded both of them to cooperate.

Without a greeting or explanation, Jacob stated that they needed to have another meeting. “Let’s get together in your ‘office’ at about nine tonight,” he said, an insult insinuated. “We’ll finalize details then.”

It was an order more than a suggestion and Luke agreed without hesitation. “Yes, Father.” They stood equal in stature as the servant looked directly into the dark, lifeless eyes of his master. “I’ll be there, of course.”


Hours later and always prompt, Father Jacob opened the door that led to the basement; it was five minutes before the appointed time of his meeting with Luke. He carefully descended the rickety old steps, holding tightly onto the handrail. Some of the treads were uneven, due to age, and warping. Some even wobbled slightly under the pressure of his weight, more than 300 pounds. Once on the concrete floor, the priest could see the large furnace, an old hand-fed coal firebox converted with an oil burner.  A bright yellow light glowed inside, visible through the door vents.

In an area alongside the heat exchanger, Luke was allowed to create his lair.  Father Jacob paused momentarily to take it all in. There was his rear projection large screen TV, a VCR, a collection of X-rated video tapes, an old upholstered sofa, its padding showing through the worn spots on the arms, and a dingy, old, overstuffed recliner that leaned slightly to one side.  The janitor had a faded neon sign hanging on the wall, Genesee Beer, an outdated refrigerator, the kind with the rounded corners on top, and a small wooden table accompanied by two chairs. A discarded kitchen cabinet was his only place to keep things, personal belongings. It had two drawers above a single door. Luke topped it off with an old piece of plywood salvaged from a garbage dumpster - a slab of granite would have been better used there, but none was available.  Several pasteboard boxes were stacked in a corner.

Jacob allowed Luke to run a long extension wire so that he could have a telephone there also. It was connected to the third line hookup, not used by the church, although the priest would have preferred to have a secret line for himself.  Then again, he really didn’t like to talk on the telephone that much and avoided it whenever possible, and he certainly didn’t want to know about Luke’s private matters. On Sundays and Fridays, a church secretary would answer calls and use an intercom to alert Jacob in his office if the caller persisted even after she made her standard response noting that Father was busy in a meeting. The problem was, he seldom spent time in his office, even on those days designated for receiving inquiries from parishioners.

Luke stood near the cooler with a brew in his hand.  Jacob approached the recliner and paused there, scowling. He cleared his throat accompanied by a loud grunt.

“Oh, excuse me.” Luke quickly stepped forward to pick up a couple magazines, inappropriate literature to be found in a religious setting. He cleared the seat. “Want something to drink?”

“Sit!” the priest ordered as he lowered himself onto the chair.  It groaned under his weight.

“I have been good to you, have I not?” Jacob began by setting the parameters for his lecture. “I let you use the shower in the guest wing, entering only by the rear door, of course. By the way,” he asked with a second thought, “are you keeping it clean, and I mean spotless?”

The inquiry was unworthy of a response.

“I allow you to have your den down here and… I saved you from doing more time.”

Luke heard this speech many times before. He replied with a singular nod.

“You would be nothing without me,” the priest said mockingly, “I took you in and gave you a place to live. I made it possible for you to be paroled early.” A long arching frown cut into his stone face as his brow stiffened. “Luke, you owe me,” he lowered his voice, “you will always be indebted to me.”

The janitor returned a steady gaze.

“So, how is she doing?” Jacob asked with a false concern for her health. “Is she holding up?”

“Oh, you mean Faith?” Luke clarified. “She is resting in the hospital. They’re keeping her pretty well drugged up. But I guess she’s okay.”

“Got her story right?”

“She will.”

“Was she examined by a nurse for evidence of rape?”


In the 80’s a rape victim would be discretely examined by a nurse for signs of sexual assault. Their plan was for Luke to take care of the need for such circumstantial evidence, roughing her up a little before she went to the police.


“Yea, looked like some rough play,” the janitor elaborated. “I enjoyed it. And she wasn’t complaining that much.”

The priest raised an eyebrow.

“We’ve done it before…” Luke intended to detail the tryst, but his remarks were cut short when Jacob raised his hand to indicate that he should stop talking. “Well, apparently I wasn’t really needed,” Luke hesitated. “She said that he was coming onto her.”

“Good. But spare me the details… Now I need you to do another task for me,” the priest said after a pause. “My sister has some letters and they must be destroyed.”

“How am I going to do that?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know how you do it…  Wait till she is out of the house, break in, find them, burn them,” he said thinking out loud. “I don’t care what you do.  Just so the letters are destroyed.”

“I don’t know,” Luke whined. “Using Faith to frame the judge was one thing, but a break-in, well, that can be pinned on me,” he sighed as he shook his head slowly. “I’m trying to keep my nose clean.  I don’t need any more charges thrown at me.”

“Oh, right!” Jacob blurted with a cough. “You are exemplary. You should be a role model for our young people in this community,” he mocked sarcastically.

“Father, please, there must be another way.”

“If so, I’m not comprehending it,” he was already standing. “Be a good boy,” he admonished and paused.  “Maybe in a few days we can watch a flick together. We’ve got a good thing going here.  Now is not the time for you to start burning bridges.”  He looked long and hard at Luke and saw that he was still not convinced. 

“But, but…”

As he interrupted, Jacob realized that he would have to check on his janitor to ensure that the dastardly deed was done. “Oh, and keep an eye on the judge’s girlfriend. I want to know what she’s up to.” He paused in thought. “What’s her name – Culp! That’s it, Jodi Culp.”

“Sure, I can do that… but…”

Jacob was already starting up the steps, leaving Luke silent in his wake. He stopped, “And keep her away from the hospital, you know, away from Faith. The last thing we need is those two conspiring with each other. I don’t trust them. Neither one!”


It was well into the twenty-third hour of that first day as Sam rolled on the cot in the holding cell. He experienced a fitful, restless attempt at sleep and the torment he felt was relentless.


I was beginning my second movie after taking a sleeping pill, and still experiencing insomnia.  I cried on the phone with my best friend, Susan Kasper.  We first met at work, at the Morning Herald, Walthem’s daily newspaper. Susan was an apprentice reporter. I worked in the art department, composing display ads for local businesses who spent their hard-earned dollars on the Herald, believing the salesperson who promised to drum up more business, much more in profits than the newspaper promotion would cost. Hard to believe, but that was the pitch.

You had to be a “looker” to work in the sales department, and the office manager tried many times to persuade me to take the job, but I declined, again and again. That’s probably why I was stuck in my present position for many years without a promotion and hardly a raise. You are wondering why I stayed – but that is a story for another time. Although in brief, I was waiting for Sam.

I heard the other girls telling stories. They flirted to get the ads and it seemed that they had to keep pushing the envelope further and further. Sexual harassment was part of the job and to be accepted. I just didn’t want to play the game.

One salesperson was groped by a client. The advertiser had an annual contract, was current in payment, and considered important to the paper’s income base. The publisher refused to file a complaint. The account was transferred to a recent hire on their staff: a new victim.

I knew that trouble was brewing for Sam, and that it was serious if he was arrested. But what I wasn’t prepared for was his incarceration. When I heard that he was locked up, I had a meltdown and called Susan. She of course was obliged to fill me in on some of the details related to the charges against him.

She has a unique point of view and usually makes me laugh, although tonight her attempt at the absurd, even her innocent and indiscreet half-witted observations were unable to jiggle my funny bone. Susan always has a story to tell, the account of a funny incident, the kind of thing that could only happen to her. 

Too late. A desperate discouragement already began to get its grip on me. Sam was sitting behind bars. This was public. I felt shame, but still, I didn’t want it to be just about me. Sam must be devastated.

And something else was happening. I had a wrenching feeling in my gut that we were in trouble, as a couple, in a way I thought could never happen to us. Infidelity? I was beginning to doubt him and the authenticity of our relationship. I knew that Faith was an old flame. So why would he go to her apartment to be alone with her?  Wasn’t that like tempting the devil? Was he two-timing on me? I needed answers. And I needed them quick.

 A pint of chocolate chip mint ice cream and half a pack of Oreo’s later, I was just beginning to feel numb.  The blinking images and noise coming from my television set didn’t register. I had no idea who was stalking the young woman portrayed on the boob tube, or why. I decided to stop at the liquor store tomorrow, to be better prepared for my next binge.


Nearby… like a shadow in the dim light of night, the presence of an arsonist was evident but unseen, obscured from and mysterious to the conscious eye. As a sleuth of sabotage, he was consumed by evil. He advanced against his victim as a puma on the prowl, acutely aware of his surroundings and calculating each move.

He was a tall person, concealed by a hooded sweatshirt and a long overcoat. He exited his car parked around the corner from 64 Church Street. He wore smooth bottom shoes, with the intention of not leaving a distinguishable footprint. He looked up and down the street. No cars were coming. His gait was swift and purposeful as he moved against his target.

Just as he stepped on the front lawn of the modest ranch home of Jen Foster the electrical wires overhead began to glow with a soft light as the neighbor’s house was illuminated by the headlights of an approaching car. He quickly retreated to stoop down alongside a vehicle parked on the edge of the street and concealed himself there. Lights flashed and shadows jumped as the unwelcomed car passed by.

He reached into a shopping bag and retrieved a glass bottle. It was filled with gasoline and its short neck was stuffed with a rag saturated with the accelerant. He sat the bottle on the sidewalk, removed one glove and felt for the lighter in his front pants pocket. He was paying close attention to details. He ignited the cloth fuse of the Molotov cocktail and quickly replaced his glove before picking it up. He darted toward the house and pitched it at the large picture window on the front of Jen’s house. It shattered the glass and fell inside. One second later he saw a flame ignite on the carpeted floor.

His retreat was even faster than his advance.  He saw no one. He believed that no one had seen him.


Four Days Later: A man is feeling that all is lost. Hope is fleeting. The threatening reality of his present situation is closing in around him like a hangman’s noose. Suicide tempts. Death is imminent.


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Blessings! Alan Updyke