The tears at last were gone. The pain might remain for a long time. Cleansed by Fire.

More chapters from Cleansed by Fire

A VG Serial: Cleansed by Fire

Chapter 36

Immediately after Saturday morning Mass, Father Frank went to the police department. He prevailed on Mike to arrange a private meeting with Ward.

“I don’t know why I’m doing this,” grumbled Mike. “You’re not his attorney. You’re not even his minister.”

“He doesn’t have either one. So I’m filling in on the minis­ter side. Besides, you owe me,” said Father Frank.

“And just how do I owe you?”

“You did nothing on my slashed tires, and I introduced you to Georgia. And from what I’m sensing, you got the better deal, even if you eventually find the tire slasher.”

They walked down to the cell block while they bantered back and forth.

“And if you had caught the arsonist earlier,” continued the priest, “I wouldn’t have a bum shoulder. What if this ruins my jump shot?”

The detective snorted. “You’re right-handed. That’s your left shoulder.”

“Obviously not a basketball player. Your left hand helps bring the ball up for the shot.”

“Obviously trying to pull the wool over my eyes. Bringing the ball up doesn’t require the finesse of shooting. Your left hand will be able to handle that. If it ever could.” Mike turned serious. “Why do you want to talk to Ward? He tried to burn down your church, tried to kill you and that boy.”

“Sammie,” said Father Frank.

“Sammie. By the way, how is Sammie?”

“Doctors aren’t saying. And no one can get in to see him. I think he’s still unconscious. I’ll try again to see him, after I talk with Ward.”

“In a coma?”

“I guess so.”

“And why are you talking to Ward?”

They reached the door leading to the cell area. Mike stopped and waited for the answer.

“As you said, he doesn’t have a minister. He needs one, now more than ever. Something happened to make him this an­gry. And I don’t think Josephson was an accident. I think Ward knew him. You knew—” Father Frank stopped, not certain whether he should mention the Child Protective Services involvement.

When the priest didn’t continue, Mike said, “We know Child Protective Services worked with Ward when he was ten years old.”

“And his mother ran off and left him?”

“Yes.”

“I’d like to know what set Ward off on this course.”

“Whatever, it does not give him the right to burn churches or kill people,” said the detective.

Father Frank ignored that. “Josephson was here in Pine Tree near the time Ward was with CPS. The records are sealed, but I did hear that Josephson was seeing Ward’s mother.”

“The fact remains, he burned the churches. And a man is dead. I’m not much on extenuating circumstances. Know what I mean?” Mike opened the door. “You can talk to him. I doubt you’ll get much out of the kid. We haven’t.”

Father Frank sat on one end of the bunk. Ward sat on the other, his head down, his expression sullen. He would not look at the priest. For ten minutes, Father Frank had tried to get the boy to talk. He decided to try a more frontal approach.

“Joe Josephson’s death wasn’t an accident, was it?”

Still, Ward said nothing but he now looked at the priest.

“He was one of your mother’s men friends, wasn’t he?”

“Him and a lot of others.”

Father Frank decided to gamble. “What did she say when you told her Josephson was abusing you?”

Ward’s knees began to shake, then his hands. He clutched the mattress, closed his eyes as tears threatened to escape. Father Frank wanted to put his arms around the young man, offer some comfort, perhaps the first comfort he had ever received. But Father Frank didn’t move.

“She didn’t care.” It came out as more hopeless than an­gry. After a minute, eyes still closed, he said just above a whisper. “She said I should ignore it, be nice to him.”

Now, he imitated his mother’s whinny voice. “‘Be nice to Mis­ter Josephson,’ she said. ‘I think he might marry me and we don’t wanna make him mad. After we’re married, I’ll ask him to stop.’” Ward caught his breath. “That’s what she said when I told her.”

Ward shook with silent sobs. A few tears seeped out from his tightly closed lids.

After a while, he continued. “’Course he didn’t. One day, he just didn’t show up. Didn’t come around again.” He opened his eyes, now red and sad. “I was happy. No more …” He looked di­rectly at Father Frank.

“Mom got unhappy, then mad. She beat me, said it was my fault he left. My fault he didn’t marry her. Every day, she would look at me like she hated me, like I was the cause of all her problems.”

He laughed a mirthless laugh. “What a joke. She was the cause of all my problems. And he never was gonna marry her. None of ’em were. When she disappeared a year later, you think I cried? It was the best day of my life.”

Ward looked at the floor and he was quiet.

“But Josephson came back?” prompted Father Frank.

“Yeah. But I was bigger then, and stronger. One look and he knew not to mess with me.”

Ward’s focus remained on the floor. The tears were gone now. The pain was not.

Chapters of the serial are published on Monday, Thursday, and Sunday.

You can learn more about Cleansed by Fire and other James H. Callan novels on his Amazon Author Page.

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