From the author: “Sealed with a Kiss,” a little police procedural that was originally written for an anthology sponsored by a Canadian regional magazine. The story was accepted but the anthology never appeared, because the town in which the editor was based, Fort McMurray, was partly destroyed by a forest fire, which disrupted a lot of people’s plans. I’ve sent it here and there, but haven’t been able to place it, so I’ve decided to put it up on Curious Fictions as a free read.
SEALED WITH A KISS
by Matt Hughes
She kept saying it all was the priest's fault. Father Brosz had made a move on her. Then her pathologically jealous husband had shown up and it all went to hell from there.
She sat in the small interview room on the third floor of the station, telling her story for the third time. Detective Nick Parma could see that the shock was wearing off now. He led her through the sequence of events again and noticed that the words she used didn't vary. It was the same phrases he'd jotted down in his notebook: "He said he wanted to pull over and talk; we're sitting there and suddenly he's all over me; I look through the window and see Arnulfo coming across the street; I get out of the car and run."
Her name was Rosaria Arenal. She was 37 and had come to the attention of Parma's house twice before: the first time when the downstairs neighbours had called in about a fight in her apartment; the second when the ER attending at St. Mary's wouldn't believe that she had sustained a split lip and a fractured cheekbone tripping over a loose rug. Both times, Mrs. Arenal had refused to say the words that would have let Parma put her husband away.
"For how long?" she had asked him when they had sat in this same interview room eight months ago. "A week? Two weeks? Then where are you, Mister Policeman, when he gets out and comes home with a pistol?"
Parma had a very good picture of what had happened inside and outside Hoolie's. There were plenty of eyewitnesses and they were all cops. Hoolie's was where half the cops downtown went after shift.
Rosaria Arenal had come into Hoolie's fast and scared, a compact little woman, eyes and mouth so wide open they made three perfect circles in a triangle. One of the eight-to-four traffic guys said they reminded him of the holes in a bowling ball, if the ball was bloodless pale except for a smear of lipstick across one white cheek. She slammed the door behind her, rattling the heavy smoked glass, and croaked, "He's going to kill him!"
There were maybe twenty off-duty cops distributed between the long bar and the red leatherette booths along the other side. In the booth nearest to the door were four guys from traffic who'd been putting away shot-and-a-beer combos since they'd clocked off three hours ago. At her end of the bar were a couple of detectives from the squad over at another house who came to Hoolie's because they had a history with the ex-cop who tended bar.
Every face in the place turned to her, every voice stilled except for one of the detectives who said, "Whoa, lady. Who's gonna..."
That was when the three shots came from outside: pop, pop, pop, so fast together that the third had already come and gone before anybody heard the tinkle of brass hitting asphalt.
The detectives drew their guns and stood up. The one who'd spoken to her was Chisholm, a lean, balding man with a thin and crooked nose. A good cop, Parma knew. He put his hand on the woman's shoulder to move her aside. But by then the four hotshots from traffic already had the door open and were crowding out in a testosterone- and-booze-fueled clutch of profanity and drawn nine-millimetres.
Parma read Chisholm's statement. He'd heard a chorus of "Freeze! Drop it! On the ground!" followed almost instantly by enough gunfire to pacify Kandahar. Chisholm and his short, stubby partner were in the doorway, looking out and screaming, "Hold your fire! There's people in those buildings!"
The bartender's statement said that after everyone else had rushed outside, Rosaria Arenal stood leaning her forearms on the bar, her sides heaving as if she'd run a quarter mile. She didn't turn her head to see what was going on outside, but lowered her brow until it touched the gouged wood and its ring-stains and cigarette burns.
"Oh, god," she said.
"Here's the thing," Parma said, when she'd run through the story for the third time, the lines coming out just the same as the other two tellings. "Father Brosz is driving you home. You've been going to him for what, three months, right?"
"He was counselling me."
"Yeah, you said."
She'd been picking at the chipped formica on the table top with one lacquered fingernail. Now her head came up and she looked at him. He saw it then, because he'd taken the training and was watching for the micro-expression that flickered across her eyes in less than a second: a flash of wariness and calculation. Then she looked back down at the formica and her fingers went back to work.
"So he's driving and you're talking and suddenly he wants to pull over and then he's grabbing and kissing."
"That's how it happened."
"Yeah," said Parma. "But in the middle of all this, you put on fresh lipstick.'
This time she didn't look up. Parma waited, letting the room fill with silence except for the hum of the fluorescents and the pick, pick, pick of her fingernail.
"How come?" he said.
The trouble with Rosaria Arenal's story was that Parma had known Father Brosz for fifteen years, ever since he came out of the seminary as a beardless twenty-one-year-old and started at St. Jude's. Cops get to know priests because their jobs often intersect -- sometimes over a body that's breathing its last while the holy man applies the oil of extreme unction; sometimes over attempts to get kids off the street corners where crime breeds and into a program that just might offer them a glimpse of a better life.
Beyond the contacts that came with work, Parma and Father Brosz had been friends -- not beer-and poker-every-Tuesday-night friends, but they would always stop and talk for a few minutes if they ran into each other on the street. Over a decade and a half, the detective had seen the priest in all kinds of situations, seen him under pressure and at his ease.
He'd also seen him around women, seen the way he looked at them. Parma thought he might have been one of those men who flee to the priesthood as a refuge from homosexuality. Brosz had not been the kind of priest who would do what Rosaria Arenal said he did: seduce her when she came to him for help with her crazy husband, carry on a clandestine affair for three months, then grab her for one last smooch when she told him she was breaking it off.
"Is there anybody who can confirm this relationship?" Parma asked.
Her head came up again, defiant this time. "You think I went around telling people I was... you know, with a priest? I was ashamed. I just wanted it to stop."
"Did your husband know?"
"He knew I was seeing Father Brosz for counselling. He wouldn't come."
"Why did he follow you?"
She looked away. "I don't know. Maybe something made him suspicious. Anything could get him going."
"But you didn't know he was behind you when Father Brosz pulled the car over."
"First I knew was when I saw him coming across the street with the gun."
After he had her tell it all again for the fourth time, same words, same hand gestures even, Parma knew she had rehearsed this performance. When she finished, he closed his notebook and just looked at her until she fidgeted a little in the interview chair. It had a hard seat and the front legs were cut a little shorter than the back. Sitting in it for a long time was meant to be uncomfortable.
After a while she said, "So can I go now?"
"Am I under arrest?"
"Then I can go." She started to rise.
"You're being held as a material witness."
"Then I want a lawyer."
"You're not entitled to a lawyer when you're just a witness."
"Why can't I go?"
He laid it out for her, watching her as he built the thing from the ground up. "You had a crazy-jealous husband who beat you up and would have killed you if you'd tried to leave him.
"The only place he'd let you go alone was the church. So you went to John Brosz for counselling and somewhere along the way you hatched this plan. You'd seen there were always cops at Hoolie's after their shifts -- it's on the route between the church and your apartment.
"You left some kind of little clues to make your husband suspicious, make him follow you. Maybe you called a couple of times from the church and hung up when he answered. That would have done it.
"So tonight, after your counseling, you ask Father Brosz to drive you home then you get him to pull over just in front of Hoolie's. You know your husband is tailing you. You wait until you're sure Arnulfo can see you, then you grab the priest and kiss him. You've got fresh lipstick on so it will leave a smear on his face -- that's your evidence.
"You see your husband coming with his gun. You know what's going to happen and you run into the bar full of armed cops who've had a few drinks.
"Bang, bang, you're husband's dead and you’ve got away with murder-by-cops. Maybe there's even insurance."
He left her in the locked room to think about it. Sometimes when you came back they were ready to confess, sometimes they'd got hard. Rosaria Arenal had got hard.
"He seduced me. He made me do it in the vestry, six times since April."
"I don't believe you. Father Brosz was pure priest, all the way down. He never wanted anything but to be a priest. He told me that and I believed him. So I don't believe he was capable of doing what you said he did, maybe not even physically capable."
Her mouth turned down at the corners. "Oh, he was physically capable," she said. "Priest or no priest, he was still a man. He had what every man has."
"You think, under their cassocks, priests aren't men?"
"Some priests, sure," Parma said. "Not Brosz."
Not defiance now, but victory. She wasn't even trying to hide it. Parma wondered if life with Arnulfo Arenal had chilled her this hard, or if she had been cold to begin with and her husband’s fists had just polished it to a high gloss.
"Did you have relations tonight?" If so there would be traces.
"No," she said. "I told him I wouldn't do it anymore. I said I'd tell the bishop."
It was plain to Parma: she didn't care if he believed her or not.
"I want to go now," she said.
"Not yet." Parma wanted to keep her as long as he could, see if something would crack her shell. But he suspected that all those sparring sessions with Arnulfo Arenal had built up a layer of emotional scar tissue he could never penetrate.
The door opened and a uniform came in, handed Parma a sheet of paper. The medical examiner had phoned in a preliminary on the priest and the desk sergeant had jotted it down. Parma glanced at the point-form notes -- gunshots to head and thorax, time of death -- then stopped at the last line. The sergeant had underlined it.
He stared at the paper for a long beat, knowing she would have seen this kind of situation on television cop shows. The TV detectives would often pretend to have new evidence so they could fool a suspect into changing her story. Then they would pounce on any discrepancy.
He continued to rest his eyes on the note, letting her get ready. Then he looked at her over the top of the paper.
"Six times since April?" he said.
"I can show you the dates on my calendar. The same dates will be in his appointment book."
"Each time, it was all the way?" He made a ring with the fingers and thumb of one hand then pushed the other hand’s index finger through it in an unmistakable motion.
Her chin came up. "He was an all-the-way kind of man."
Parma thought about John Brosz, about how becoming a priest had been everything to him, his whole life. Then he laid the ME's notes on the chipped table. He stood her up and put the cuffs on her. "Rosaria Arenal, I am arresting you on suspicion of murder. You have the right to retain and instruct counsel..."
She swore at him but he kept right on through to the end. When he had finished, he told her, "Father Brosz was an all-the-way kind of priest. It was the only thing he ever wanted to be, and he would not have let anything come between him and his vocation.
"He wasn't your lover. You never saw what was underneath the cassock. If you had, you'd have known the secret he must have carried all the way through the seminary and fifteen years at St. Jude's."
He showed her the note on the ME's report, drew her attention to the bottom line. "John Brosz,” he said, “was a woman."