Like the heartbeat under the floorboards in that Edgar Allen Poe classic, guilty people hear things that aren’t there. I’ve known it since I read the story in eighth grade, but I still never expected to catch a killer with “Oh, Sherrie.”
It all started on a cold, but dry, night in January.
My good friend Maeve, otherwise known as the Reverend Collins, pastor of St. Gabriel’s, catty-cornered and down from my little radio station in Simpson, Vermont, came over for a cup of coffee at about ten o’clock.
That part wasn’t unusual; Maeve often drops by at the end of her long day of tending to the flock to hang out with me during the WSV all-request love songs at night show. It’s relaxing and fun for her, and good company for me. Nothing bad there.
What was unusual: the look in her eyes. Even on a really bad day, she’s always got a little twinkle and a wry comment to take the edge off any situation, no matter how horrible.
It’s a bond between us. I’ve always been a little snarky, but in the last year, when my career and marriage exploded and I landed in this frozen corner of East Hell, dark humor has pulled me through.
“C’mon downstairs,” I said, “and we’ll figure out where to hide the murder weapon.”
She didn’t even smile.
Worse, she just gave me a little shrug when I asked her if she was wearing a new shade of eyeliner. In addition to being a woman of God, Maeve is a lady of considerable beauty savvy. On a normal day, she could spend five minutes parsing the difference between pencil, liquid, and brush liners, and available shades.
“All right,” I said, pouring her a cup of coffee in one of the station swag mugs I keep for visiting friends. “What’s wrong?”
“Had a funeral today.” She took the mug.
“And?” I asked as we walked into the studio. Maeve, being a priest, buries people frequently. She normally considers it a blessing to consign souls to God and offer comfort to the loved ones left behind. It takes an emotional toll, of course, but I’ve seen her energized and serene after funerals because she knows she’s doing good work.
This was not that.
“I’m not sure how much I can say,” she started.
“Okay. Think about it for a minute while I do my next break and get the next couple of songs ready.”
In a way, I was grateful to be able to help her because she’d been so great to me since I came back to Simpson.
Maeve and I were friends but not super-close when I was here 20 years ago as a baby journalist on my way up and she was in her first solo parish. I landed in New York as a midday jock thanks to a voice that was much better than my live-reporting skills, and everything was great. Until it wasn’t.
Long story short, my husband survived cancer and decided he wanted different things, most of them blonde and bubbleheaded. My wonderful New York job evaporated when the new owners decided they could make more money with the Bully Ballers’ Lunch than Jaye Jordan’s Light Rock at Work. So I used my severance to buy WSV, and moved into the upstairs apartment with my tween daughter.
Thankfully, just a few doors down from an old pal who became a much better friend.
You never know when life’s going to give you a gift … or when you’ll get a chance to pay it back a little.
Maeve sipped her coffee and contemplated with that thousand-mile look, while I played the ads for the oil company and hardware store, and a couple of spots from the satellite music network. When she didn’t even smile at the silly fast-food ad with the guy proclaiming “I’ve got MEAT!” I knew we were in real trouble.
I talked up the first song, an anniversary request for some overwrought boy band thing, and turned to her. “So?”
She nodded. “I’ve got a real ethical problem here.”
“From a funeral?” I asked.
“Well, tell me what you think you can.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you, understand,” Maeve said, pausing for a sip of coffee. “It’s that I made promises to God and my church, and I have to honor my vows. No matter what.”