Unholy Murder

Private Detective Nicholas Chambers receives a midnight telephone call and is summoned to St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church in Cranston, R.I. Greeted by his childhood friend Fr. Richard O’Rourke, he is taken to the church bell tower. What he is shown there plunges him into a decade old mystery, testing the limits of his detective skills, and opening his eyes to the forces of good and evil at work in the world.

Christopher Dacey

5 min read

One: Awake at Midnight

The corridor I was limping down was damp, cold, and dimly lit. A few low wattage light bulbs hung loosely from an overhead plaster ceiling that was cracked and peeling badly. The lights flickered as I passed beneath them, as if to warn me away from the ominous path I was taking. It was a cold dark place, suffocating with a putrid stench that somehow permeated through the heavy stone walls.

An inch or two of murky black water flooded the floor and seeped surreptitiously into my new Oxfords. My feet and toes had gone numb by this time, and my upper body was too busy shaking from the frigid temperature to notice the blood dripping down from the back of my head. A winded breath fogged out from inside of my tired lungs.

I followed the narrow corridor for thirty yards before it came to an abrupt end. At the end, there was a small oval-shaped steel door built into the stone wall. It reminded me of the steel hatches we crawled through in the Navy. I turned the metal wheel on the hatch to unlatch it and pulled the heavy door open. It creaked and wailed as it moved. The smell that escaped from inside was twice as foul as the stench in the outer corridor.

The hatch led into a smaller crudely dug tunnel, creeping deep into the frozen earth. The tunnel floor pitched down at a gradual grade. I looked inside and could make out a faint light at the far end of the passageway. I crouched down and started into the unnatural tunnel.

The floor was a mix of mud and ice, while the walls and ceiling had been cut with rough precision into the raw earth. There was no visible support structure. The lack of construction worried me at first, but I was betting on the frozen climate to stop the ground above from collapsing down on top of me. Halfway down, I got a better look at the light at the far end.

There was a sconce mounted on the side of the wall with an open torch burning dimly. A dark silhouette stood just behind the glowing light. It was a tall, ominous hooded black figure with no distinct features. A small girl no more than ten years old stood facing me, shivering in front of the shadowy figure. As I approached, the girl tried to move towards me, but a black icy inhuman hand reached out and held her shoulder, halting her advance. She had a look of complete terror in her eyes. An unnatural fear passed through me like a stiff winter breeze. I instinctually pulled the automatic from my shoulder holster and chambered a round.

The dark figure lifted his left hand slowly up over his crooked shoulder. A rope was dangling down from the ceiling overhead. The rope was connected to a bell hidden somewhere behind him in the darkness, which rang out as he jerked down on the heavy cord. The bell echoed through my empty head in an unnatural way, disorientating my advance on the two of them.

The shadowy figure tugged at the rope a second time to send another shock wave of unnatural sound through the back of my mind. I dropped to my knees and blocked my ears with my half-frozen hands. My gun fell carelessly down onto the muddy floor. The bell rang out a third time, and I grasped my head in agony. The sound thundered violently deep inside my brain, causing me to lose focus and black out for a brief instant.

I shook my head and regained focus, opening one eye slowly and turning over in my bed. I lifted the receiver before the telephone could ring again.

“Yeah,” I mumbled into the receiver.

“Nick?” A man’s voice on the other side questioned.

“Who is this?” I asked.

“It’s Father O’Rourke from St. Paul’s Nick...” he paused. “Ricky O’Rourke,” he added with more certainty. I sat up slowly in bed and switched the table lamp on.

“Rick? I mean Father,” I corrected myself in a half-conscious response. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that,” I added.

“We need your help Nick,” he asserted. “There’s been a ...” he paused for a moment. “Well, there’s been an incident here in the church. Could you come right over?” he asked with urgency. I rubbed my tired eyes and looked down at the fold-up Westinghouse alarm clock beside the telephone. It was a little after one in the morning.

“Could it wait until morning Father?” I suggested.

“No, it simply can’t Nick,” he replied bluntly. I shook my head and then tilted it slowly from side to side to loosen the arthritis tightening down on my aging neck.

“Alright, give me twenty minutes Father,” I said as I hung up the receiver.

Richard O’Rourke had been a close childhood friend of mine, my best friend actually. We had grown up together in the Edgewood neighborhood of Cranston. We had done all the usual things young boys did in those days, and we got into all the usual trouble together. We lost track of each other during the war years. I enlisted in the Navy early on and by the time I came home, Ricky O’Rourke had become Father O’Rourke.

I stood up from the bed and looked out from my third story apartment window. It had snowed heavily earlier that night and the accumulation had reached well over a foot outside. The wind was still blowing the snow into heavy drifts along the roads and sidewalk. I looked out across the rooftops of the neighboring homes. Most were two and three-story tenement homes. Pillars of white furnace smoke billowed out from brick chimneys, doing their best to keep the families inside warm on such a bitter night. In the distance, through the ghostly pillars I could see the tall neo-gothic bell tower of St. Paul’s Church protruding up from the rooftops a few blocks away. I wondered what was happening at this moment inside of the church, and what had created such a sense of panic in Father Rick’s voice.

Thirty minutes later I was standing on the sidewalk in front of St. Pauls, out of breath from trudging through three blocks of heavy drifts. I brushed the wet snow from my overcoat, walked up a short set of stone steps, and pulled at the brass knocker on one of two large oak doors that formed the entrance to the enormous neo-gothic church. To my surprise, the door was locked inside and didn’t budge. It surprised me because I knew the church doors had always been kept open for as long as I could remember. As kids, we would sneak inside at all hours of the day or night to hide out from whoever might by chasing us. I rapped again on the heavy door and waited for a response. A sub-zero wind was sweeping across the front facade of the building and rapidly lowering my body temperature. I turned up the collar on my wool overcoat and knocked again on the oak door, but still no answer.

I stepped back down from the stairway onto the sidewalk and looked up at seven darkened stained-glass windows just above the entranceway. It suddenly occurred to me that Father O’Rourke may have wanted me to meet him in the parish rectory. I glanced around the corner in the direction of the church rectory, which was wedged directly between the church and the parish school on Broad Street. Snow drifts two feet deep had taken control of the sidewalk, and the road wasn’t looking much better. At that moment, one of the large front doors to the church unlatched on the inside and creaked open.

A bitter wind whipped inside violently, as if to get out of the cold. Father Rick was standing just inside, holding the heavy entrance door open for me. He was dressed in a long black overcoat and holding a small unlit flashlight in his left hand.

“Come inside, quickly Nick!” he instructed with a sense of urgency. I ran up the stairs and passed under the enormous doorway. As I entered, I instinctually dipped my half-frozen hand into the small stone holy water basin inside of the doorway and blessed myself. Father Rick pulled the door shut and locked down a latch at the base of the twin doors. He shook the chill from his narrow body and turned back to look at me.

“Follow me Nick,” he instructed in a stoic tone as he hurried off with no other explanation. I followed him.