“Well, hello, Bernie! Imagine finding you standing at my front door on a Sunday afternoon!” Lucent’s voice echoed back to the living room where everyone politely waited. “And you’re in uniform, too… Here to arrest someone?” She chuckled, although deep inside she really didn’t feel the humor in it. Captain Bernard Ruff usually took Sundays off.
“No, no, nothing like that, Lu. Just something that’s been bothering me, and I need to talk to Blue, Moxie and Able… Thought they’d be here, of course.”
“Ha! How would you’ve ever guessed that? Come on in, they’re in the living room,” she stepped back as Ruff took off his hat and stepped through the door. He was a big man, kind of resembling John Wayne, but with a heart of gold, really … not that it showed very easily, but it was there, nevertheless. “Thank you kindly. I hate to disturb your afternoon, but it’s really kind of important … at least to me.”
“Well, if it’s important to Captain Bernard Ruff, then it should be important to all of us,” Lucent added with a wink. She’d always appreciated the honesty, hard work and integrity of this veteran police officer, and actually thought he should have been appointed chief after the last local elections. “Have a seat and make yourself comfortable. I’ll bring you some tea.”
“Thanks Lu, you’re always so gracious,” he replied as he walked into the living room. “Hello everyone! Hope you don’t mind my barging in like this so unexpectedly…”
“Ha!” Moxie laughed. “You never call before barging in!” Then she really laughed as Ruff raised his eyebrows and smiled.
“Now, Moxie, whatever do you mean?” he mocked innocent wonder.
“I know why you’re really here,” she teasingly offered.
“Oh, and why would that be, young lady?”
“It’s that old dinosaur of a weed eater your still clinging to, and it’s on the edge of extinction … again, right?” Everyone in the room laughed, including Lucent who handed Ruff his cup of tea.
“Well … now that you mention it, Mox – even though that’s not the reason I came over, mind you – umm … that old weed eater could use a tune-up, Mox. I mean, of course, if you have the time… I’ll pay you, of course.”
“Oh hush up!” Moxie laughed again and shook her head. “You and I both know it’ll be more than a tune up, and we both know it’ll go on your tab.” Everyone laughed again.
“You know, that tab of mine is getting mighty long…”
“Yeah, I like to keep it that way,” Moxie shot him an impish smile. “Never know when I might need to pull a favor or two from a police captain!”
“You’re a dirty player, Moxie Keener,” Captain Ruff beamed and laughed along with everyone else. He adored Moxie, but more than that, he was just downright impressed with her, and he respected her.
“I’ll find some time this week to look at it,” she assured the crusty, lovable, old officer. “But now, you really didn’t come to talk about weed eaters, and since you normally do take Sundays off, then this must be important. What’s up, Captain?”
Captain Ruff took off his jacket, casually threw it over the back of an available rocker and sat down. (Lucent quickly retrieved the jacket to hang it up, which miffed the old man somewhat.) “Well,” he leaned forward with elbows on his knees, tea cup in his right hand. “You remember that argument you had with a young fella at the Frosty Parlor some time ago?”
“Yeah,” Able answered quickly. “It actually wasn’t that long ago.”
“Well, o.k. still… We’ve found out some interesting things about him,” Ruff proceeded to offer information he really wasn’t supposed to divulge … but this was Splinterbit, and everybody knew everybody, and besides that, he was with friends, so… “Now this’ll shock your socks off,” he paused for effect, while looking at each person in the room. “This young man is the nephew of one Jack B. Ripper!” He then leaned back in self-satisfaction, waiting for the expected reaction.
“You’re kidding?” the chorus of voices rang out.
“Nope, not at all. His mother is the sister of Jack Ripper, Attorney at Law … but it gets even better.” Another pause for effect, and Ruff leaned forward again. “You see, about two years ago, this young man’s father died. For some reason – who the hell knows why – his mother decided to start attending Ebenezer Bible Church. She evidently felt welcome, safe and secure there. So, of course, this young man, had to go with his mamma. But this is where it gets really interesting.”
“Huh! I can’t imagine it being more intriguing than it already is,” Moxie offered.
“Well, just wait,” Ruff held of his hand. “It seem this young man – whose name, by the way, is Morris Graver – well, he took an immediate liking to Fen Sloughheart, apparently feeling like ole Fen had taken him under wing. Now, I don’t think that’s actually true. Hell, I don’t think Fen Sloughheart gives a damn about him anymore than he does anyone else, but perception is key here. You know, just a smile every Sunday with a firm handshake and good, solid pat on the back might be enough to make a young man, who just lost a father he was evidently never especially close to, feel like … well, like another older, mature man had really noticed him and cared about him and … whatever. You know what I’m getting at.”
“Ah, yeah, the all-too-common tragedy of relational magnification arising from psychological-emotional desperation … or, practically, starvation,” Dr. Wiseman offered. “I’ve seen it over and over again, and it’s very, tremendously tragic.”
“There’s even more to it than this, though,” and now Ruff became eerily serious. “He and his mother live in Brighterday’s neighborhood.” This info-bomb left everyone in the room shell-shocked. They were speechless. Most mouths were partly open but dry as sand; cold chills ran down spines; eyes didn’t blink; no one moved.
Captain Bernard Ruff finally broke the uneasy silence. “Of course, we went straight to Sloughheart. Without going into detail, suffice it to say he has a good alibi. We cannot pinpoint anyone else in his congregation that we need to specifically question at this point. We’ve interviewed all of the neighbors – not that any of them would have reason to shoot Joy Brighterday – but still, they all have good, solid alibis. Now … Morris Graver has an alibi, too, but it’s a bit shaky. You see, his mother provided his alibi, more or less, but she wasn’t actually home between 6:00 and 6:45 p.m., and she left the house again to go to the grocery store at approximately 7:15 p.m.”
“Now, she testified that her boy was at home, inside the house, during this short time. Furthermore, they both testified that they do not own a gun, handgun or firearm, and that none such is anywhere in the house or on the property. And, of course, the time period mamma gave covers Morris … technically. Joy was shoot at approximately 7:10 p.m. Mamma was at home until 7:15 p.m. But this raises some very interesting and disturbing questions in itself: They live right next to the vacant house from which the shot originated. This caused an immediate disturbance in the neighborhood. Why, then, would mamma casually leave her home to go to the grocery store? That just seems odd, does it not?”
“And for another thing, does she necessarily have the times right? The times involved here are mighty, mighty close. Maybe she left at about … oh … five after seven, instead of 7:15 p.m. For another thing, she got home at 6:45 p.m. and evidently was planning on rushing out to the grocery store – at the most, she was home no more than one-half hour – so what was Morris doing during this time? His answer to this question was rather vague … so was hers. She really didn’t know precisely. So, is she absolutely certain he was in the house the whole time? Or was she too distracted to really notice?”
“I’ll admit, these are all speculative questions, but what I really want to know this Sunday afternoon from you three is this: Just how upset was he? Thinking back on that confrontation, in your opinion, was he very adamant in his defense of Reverend Sloughheart? More importantly, perhaps, was Joy Brighterday mentioned?”
“No, I would definitely remember that,” Able answered. “But if he’s a member of Ebenezer, then we didn’t have to mention her. He would have been well aware of Reverend Joy Brighterday anyway, from Fen Sloughheart. I can personally testify to that! “
“So far as his being adamant, yes,” Moxie said decidedly. “Yes, he was rather obdurate and attempted to be personally insulting on top of that, if you can imagine.” Some chuckles rumbled around the room. “But you make him sound like a kid, someone young. I think we took him to be in his early thirties at least.”
“Tragedy and hard life have a way of aging you, you know,” Ruff answered sadly. Deep down inside, he already felt somewhat sorry for Morris Graver, whether he committed the crime or not. “No, he’s actually 21-years-old now, which means he was 19 when his daddy died. And he’s been extremely dependent on mamma ever since … well, pretty much before that, too. But he’s had problems: depression, anger, self-isolation, and I could go on.”
“Oh, dear God,” Sage shook her head. “That poor boy! My God, have mercy! Over and over again … millions of them, lost and alone and lonely, with no direction in their lives, just craving loving authority and safety and security … a sense of belonging. You know, Captain, I’d almost dare say they ended up going to Ebenezer because he chose to go. His mother may have initially suggested visiting, but after hearing what you’ve said, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that Morris was the one who actually want to go back… And, too, Captain, I really think I’d like to know just how much time he has spent with Preacher Sloughheart. It may surprise you.”
“You know, you’re right,” Ruff scratched his head. “You’re right. I don’t think we’ve looked into that quite carefully enough yet… I’ll start on it first thing tomorrow morning. Uh … but one more question to you three: Did he say anything, anything at all, that was threatening, or could be construed as a threat?”
“Yeah,” Moxie again answered. “He virtually threatened to take us to court for public defamation of character! Now wrap your brain around that one, if you will! Defaming the character of someone who’s spent a lifetime defaming the characters of I don’t know how many people throughout our community and surrounding area … not to mention the whole country and world! And we were supposedly defaming his character! Humph!”
“No matter,” Captain Ruff waved his hand. “The point is, he threatened court, and that’s interesting, since his uncle is a well-known, and vicious, attorney. Perhaps a visit to Ripper would be in order.”
“What would be the point?” Lucent asked.
“Oh … just to find out if nephew swung by his office after the Frosty Parlor confrontation. Ripper is Sloughheart’s attorney, of course, and Morris may have wanted his uncle to know all the nasty things people were saying about his newly-found and beloved, father-type hero. That would not be at all out of the question, so … if so, what did he say? What was his attitude like? What did Ripper say? What did he advise? Would Ripper know if Morris went to see Sloughheart at some point later on? Or maybe before Morris visited him? There are plenty of good questions to ask… It’s just getting Ripper to cooperate that’ll be the real problem!”