Let the dead bury the de.., p.1

Let the Dead Bury the Dead, page 1


Let the Dead Bury the Dead

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Let the Dead Bury the Dead

  Let the Dead Bury the Dead

  David Carlson

  A Christopher Worthy/Father Fortis Mystery

  Coffeetown Press

  PO Box 70515

  Seattle, WA 98127

  For more information go to: www.coffeetownpress.com


  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  Cover watercolor by Kathy Carlson

  Cover design by Sabrina Sun

  Let the Dead Bury the Dead

  Copyright © 2017 by David Carlson

  ISBN: 978-1-60381-395-2 (Trade Paper)

  ISBN: 978-1-60381-396-9 (eBook)

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2016962688

  Produced in the United States of America

  * * *

  To two communities that anchor my life:

  First, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Carmel, Indiana, a loving and accepting community where people’s lives—including mine—have been transformed.

  Second, Franklin College, which over the past thirty-nine years has taught me that being a professor is about student learning, not about me.

  * * *


  To Kathy, my friend, wife, and first editor, I owe the most. She has spent nearly as much time with Christopher Worthy and Father Fortis as I have, and she shares my love for these characters. I also wish to thank Sara Camilli, my agent, for her constant belief in this series. Thanks also to Catherine Treadgold, Jennifer McCord, and Becca Eskildsen of Coffeetown Press for their patience and excellent advice.

  To Leif, Marten, Mandy, and now Felix, please know how much joy you bring to my life.

  I am grateful to Franklin College, a gem of a liberal arts college that has been my home for nearly forty years. Through various grants, Franklin College generously funded travel that was essential to creating this series.

  Finally, I wish to thank all the English and writing teachers who encouraged me to read, read, read, and who responded with kindness to my early attempts to fill the blank page.

  * * *

  “Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.’ ”

  —Luke 9:60 (NIV)

  * * *

  Chapter One

  A hush fell over the sanctuary of St. Cosmas Greek Orthodox Church as Father Fortis bent down next to the flowers on the carpet.

  The parish council president, Mr. Margolis, sighed heavily, and in a trembling voice said, “Yes, Father Spiro was killed right here, in front of the very altar he served for thirty years.

  “Right below the icon of the Virgin Mary,” Mrs. Filis added, her false teeth clacking.

  The piece of new carpet wasn’t large, little more than the size of a plate, but Father Fortis imagined that death by strangulation wouldn’t have left much blood. A shiver passed through him as he remembered what Mr. Margolis had said over the phone. In the middle of their conversation about his duties as St. Cosmas’ interim priest, the old man had suddenly blurted out, “We can only imagine how angry the killer must have been. You see, blood flowed from poor Father Spiro’s eyes and nose.”

  Father Fortis struggled to his feet, aware of the eyes of the other parish council members on him. He looked toward the altar. Even when a priest died under normal circumstances, a parish was swamped with pain, sorrow, and regrets. And this priest’s death had been anything but normal.

  “Let us offer a prayer for the repose of the soul of Father Spiro,” he said as he bowed his head. “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” he began and then paused for a moment of silence. As he offered the prayer for the recently departed, he recalled his abbot’s caution. “Please remember that you are to be pastoral, Father Nicholas. I trust your background with murders won’t get in the way of this sacred charge.”

  Then he should have sent someone else, he thought to himself. Such as Father Basil, a fellow monk-priest with a dry cough. Basil would have been the murdered priest’s contemporary, a fact that might have been of some comfort to this community. Or the abbot could have sent Father Gregory, a young and eager priest who’d just completed his degree in philanthropy. He might have helped St. Cosmas turn their sorrow in a more generous direction. He finished the prayer and heard Mrs. Filis sniffling. One of the men coughed too loudly. No, for some reason the abbot had sent him. Even in his role as interim parish priest at St. Cosmas, he would quickly learn from parishioners what the victim, Father Spiro George, had been like. Could he be faulted if part of his brain listened for clues about who would have wanted him dead?

  “Shall we return to our meeting?” he said, looking around the circle.

  The group stayed where they were, still looking at the flowers.

  “Poor, poor Spiro. Such a lovely man,” a woman in her forties with thick glasses commented.

  “Yes, he was a giant, really,” Jimmy Angelo, another older member of the council, added. His eyes blinked rapidly as he looked around the circle for support. “We won’t see his like again. Part of a dying breed. Oh, please forgive that.”

  “We know what you mean, Jimmie,” a fourth voice added. “But if Father Spiro could speak, he’d probably ask us why we’re not listening to Father Fortis and facing the decisions in front of us.”

  Father Fortis glanced up toward the voice of reason. It was Dr. Pappas, the cardiologist who had been the first to introduce himself when Father Fortis had entered the library a half hour before. Father Fortis wondered if the man had been the dead priest’s physician.

  Knowing that he’d have plenty of time to return to the scene of the murder later, Father Fortis stepped around the flowers and moved toward the side door. “Back to the library, then.”

  In the hallway, Mrs. Filis called from behind him. “Did you ever meet our Father Spiro?”

  “I regret not,” he replied. If the council was any indication, it wasn’t going to be easy for the parish to focus on anything but their loss.

  As if to prove his point, the younger woman on the council chimed in, “But I thought he brought a group to St. Simeon’s, your monastery, a couple of years ago.”

  “That’s very possible,” Father Fortis said. “You see, we receive many guests in the course of a year.”

  Once back in the library, the group took their places around the large table. Fourteen in all, Father Fortis counted. Two women and twelve men, with an even mix of retirees and younger professionals. Fourteen seemed to him a large number for a parish council, something that could indicate a thriving parish … or a distrustful one.

  From the center of the table, Dr. Pappas cleared his throat. “Metropolitan Iakovos called yesterday and said something quite astute, surprising as that may seem.” A few chuckled nervously around the table. “He said that when a beloved priest dies, some parishioners step back precisely when they’re most needed to step forward. We can’t afford that here, and that’s why we’re so happy that you’re with us, Father Fortis.”

  “Of course, His Eminence is right,” Father Fortis replied, looking from the doctor to the others around the table. “But I would add that in extraordinarily tragic circumstances such as these, the parish is looking to you, their parish council, for leadership. They don’t know me, but they do know and trust you.” Even as he said it, Father Fortis wondered if that was true. Greek Orthodox churches were
not immune to infighting, and sometimes the fighting was most intense within a church’s council. He would certainly find out soon enough.

  “The last thing Father Spiro would want is for his death to result in the death of this parish,” Dr. Pappas added.

  The younger woman with the thick glasses squinted. “Of course that’s right, but—”

  “And this council will do its part, I assure you, Father,” Jimmie Angelo interrupted, pounding his fist on the table. “Please, Father Fortis, let us know how we can help you, you know … find time to help the police.”

  Father Fortis looked down at his hands. So, news of his rather odd past had leaked out.

  “Let’s remember that the police haven’t asked for any help,” Dr. Pappas said by way of clarification. “In fact, from the way the police have acted so far, I’m sure they wouldn’t welcome it at all.”

  “Ooh, that horribly rude Lieutenant Sherrod,” Mrs. Filis said, her teeth clamping down on the name.

  “In that regard, some of us would like to ask a hypothetical question, Father,” the younger woman said.

  “Remind me of your name again,” Father Fortis interrupted.

  The woman smiled nervously. “I’m Dr. Lydia Boras.”

  “Ah, another doctor. A Greek mother’s dream come true.”

  The woman raised her hand as those around the table laughed. “Not a real doctor, at least according to my mother. Classics professor at Allgemein College.”

  “Ah, yes. I’ve heard of the school,” Father Fortis said. “Please pose your hypothetical question. Maybe I’ll have a hypothetical answer.”

  “Ah, nicely put, Father. Our question is this. If the police were to ask for your assistance, what would you say?”

  “That’s easy. I will offer whatever service I can, but we all know that my greatest challenge will be as your priest. Not an easy task for an out-of-practice monk.”

  Dr. Pappas leaned forward on the table, and Father Fortis noticed how all eyes turned toward him. “But we were told that you’ve assisted the police before. In fact, we heard you’ve worked with some of our own police force in the past. We naturally assumed—”

  “It’s true that I know one detective from Detroit. In fact, I count Lieutenant Worthy as one of my closest friends. But I don’t know the officer you named a moment ago, so it seems a moot point,” Father Fortis added hurriedly. The last thing he needed was for everyone at St. Cosmas to expect him to be doing exactly what he intended to do—poke around and discover what he could about the grisly murder.

  “Ah, yes, we’re back to Lieutenant Sherrod,” another man offered. “Sorry, I’m Dr. Stanos, and I’m just a professor too. What I think the parish council might be overlooking is that while Lieutenant Sherrod is a bit brusque, he seems quite competent.”

  “I’m sure you’re right, Dr. Stanos, and that’s my view as well,” Father Fortis said, emphasizing the point with a gentle tap on the table. “I promise to stay out of the way of the police, even as I’d expect them to stay out of my way as your priest.”

  He reached to touch his pectoral cross and give those sitting at the table as pious a look as he could muster. If his half-truth was taken as gospel throughout the parish, all the better for him.

  The boxes lining the wall of Captain Lorraine Betts’ office suggested someone near retirement, someone recently fired, or someone recently promoted. It was, in fact, the last, and this was Lieutenant Christopher Worthy’s first meeting with his new boss.

  Worthy had spent his entire fourteen-year career under the worrying gaze of Captain Joseph Spicer. Captain Spicer was a detective’s best friend and key supporter when he handed out a case, but as soon as pressure came down from above, the captain’s infamous memos would begin. From demanding daily progress reports to questioning mileage reports, Spicer had done his best to make his staff feel the pain of his own ulcer attacks.

  Spicer had objected particularly to what had become one of Worthy’s key rules of detection—that progress on a case happened when witnesses weren’t rushed, but rather given time to pass through their shock to recall the important clues. And important clues for Worthy were precisely those that didn’t at first seem to fit. It had been Spicer’s barb that he’d named two of his ulcers after Worthy.

  So he wouldn’t miss Spicer, though he knew there was no guarantee that Lorraine Betts, his new captain, would be any better. She’d been recruited out of Indianapolis, and the scuttlebutt was that she’d made the short list because of Detroit’s gender imbalance on the force. Having seen her the day before from across the room, Worthy wondered if that could be true. Something about the look in the eye and the set of the mouth of the middle-aged, substantial woman suggested that she’d deserved every promotion.

  When Captain Betts entered her new office, Worthy rose respectfully from the chair to his full height of six feet two inches. It was a chair he’d occupied many times before—when he’d been dressed down and when he’d received commendations. The drab office even held an echo of his being threatened with dismissal, and that echo wasn’t all that long ago.

  It was in this same chair, eighteen months before, that Spicer had reassigned him to Siberia—Siberia being the academy, for a second teaching stint. Spicer had spoken of Worthy’s natural talent for teaching, his proven ability to influence new recruits for the better, but Worthy had taken the assignment for what it was—a punishment for not returning from New Mexico on his last case with the missing college girl. That he’d found a serial killer out in New Mexico hadn’t counted for much. He had failed—as far as everyone in Detroit knew—to complete his assignment. Now he wondered if it was too much to hope that this meeting was more than a social call.

  Captain Betts tapped on an open folder with a pencil. “I’ve been reading your personnel file, Lieutenant. Of course, I’d heard of you before I got here.” She looked up at him over half-frame reading glasses. “But from first impressions, I’ll say this. You’re not exactly what I expected.”

  Worthy made it a point not to move in his chair. “Oh?”

  “Relax. I’m confessing my problem, not yours. I’m one of those who superimposes the known onto the unknown. In your case, I assumed you’d be like my top detectives in Indianapolis.”

  “I’m sorry if I don’t quite live up to that.”

  She seemed to be studying his face. “Let me put it another way. You don’t match what I’m used to in terms of my best cops. The ones I know tend to be nasty. I mean, nasty on the first meeting and nasty from that point on. But then,” she added with a smile, “maybe you’re just good at hiding that. Yes, hiding. Maybe that’s what your file adds up to.”

  Worthy shrugged. “You’re better than me, then. I’ve never been able to figure out what my file adds up to.”

  “No? How about this? You’re a bit of a magician, and you have a pattern of working best when working alone.”

  Worthy could have objected to the last remark. In his opinion, his best work had been his work with Sera Lacey in New Mexico a year and a half before. But he had to admit that his career in Detroit had been a different matter. “I’m sure my file also describes the way I’ve fallen flat on my face,” he said.

  Captain Betts studied him again. “Yes, that’s here too. Gutsy of you to begin with your weak points. But the magician part gets the press clippings, don’t you agree?”

  Having no possible response to that, he didn’t bother to offer one.

  Captain Betts took off her glasses and let them dangle from a beaded cord. “The two of us would have met eventually, maybe on a visit to the academy. But I’ve asked you to come in for a particular reason.” She waited, as if expecting him to respond. “Aren’t you at all curious what that might be?”

  Worthy shifted in the seat. “Only if it gets me out of the academy. I need a case, Captain.”

  Betts smiled slightly and sat forward. “I may have that, Lieutenant, if you can finesse matters a bit.”

  Captain Betts passed a case sheet ac
ross the desk.

  Worthy studied the top of the form, noting the incident’s date, January fourth. “This murder is two weeks old,” he said, scanning the sheet. “It’s the strangulation of the priest. That’s Sherrod’s case.” He moved forward to pass the paper back.

  She raised her hand to stop him. “It was Lieutenant Sherrod’s case, and it still would be if he had his way.” She gazed toward the room’s one grimy window and exhaled slowly. “That’s where the finesse part comes in. You see, I’ve been told—no, I’ve been warned—about you and Sherrod. The petty jealousies, I mean.”

  “Not on my part,” Worthy interrupted. “In my world, Sherrod doesn’t count.”

  “That’s not a response that shows much finesse or respect, Lieutenant. You can’t see how your record would rankle someone like Phil?”

  Phil, is it? Worthy thought. Would he become Chris to whomever she talked with next?

  “Why would anyone, even Sherrod, be jealous of my being exiled at the academy?” he asked.

  “I’ve had only one meeting with your colleague, and I wouldn’t say it went all that well. But I can see his point. You see, Sherrod isn’t the only one tired of seeing your picture in the paper. You may not have found that missing girl in New Mexico, but you did catch a serial killer.”

  Worthy studied his hands. He didn’t need a reminder of how isolated he’d become at the precinct over the past five years. “How does any of that relate to the murder of the priest? Did Phil blow the case already?”

  “Lieutenant Sherrod was doing just fine,” she answered evenly. “He was working it with Sergeant Henderson, who apparently is known as ‘Hoops’ around here. Know him?”

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