the church murder case (part twelve)

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My employer held out her cigarette case. "Please have one of mine," she said. "I'm sure your nerves could use it."

He smiled as he took one. "You've deduced my secret vice. I do try to hide it from my congregation, though I'm sure I'm not fooling them."

"That was the easiest deduction I made today. You keep this ashtray in a drawer. Why? If it's for guests to use, why hide it? Out of obsessive neatness? The rest of your office tends to indicate that neatness is not your particular vice. And the ashtray wasn't your brother's; he didn't want me to smoke, and then he made faces at me when I did."

"Don't tell me that's how you knew."

"Of course not, but it was one indication that something was not what it seemed."

Father Frank slid the ashtray to the middle of his desk, where they could both reach it.

Ron leaned forward, but I said, "You're too young to smoke."

She sighed.

"There are several places we could start," my employer said, drawing deeply on her cigarette, "but I am most curious about the things that your brother told us when he was pretending to be you."

Father Frank shrugged. "Of course, I have no idea what he told you. Not to be flippant, but with my brother it could have been almost anything."

"I'll summarize," she said, "rather than recounting it all verbatim."

She told Father Frank what his brother had said (with some indication of her responses), including the scene on the street with Ron, though she omitted my confrontation with the phony priest.

Father Frank nodded, stubbing out his cigarette butt in the ashtray as she finished. "The main thing that wasn't true is that the decision of the diocese has already been made. The church will be closed. That's what set my brother off, more or less, or really my decision that I wanted to stay and minister to my congregation anyway."

Her eyes widened. "Indeed? On your own?"

"It's not my preference, of course, but I disagree with the decision. This church has stood here for over a hundred and twenty-five years. It's one of the oldest buildings in this area. And it has usually ministered to people who would have been considered beyond help, people the Ashfords and the Duquesnes and the Forresters wouldn't have looked twice at."

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About Anthony Lee Collins

I write.
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