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a novel by Bill Dunn

Chapter 5

Monday, October 25th, 5:45 a.m.

“Thirty-nine degrees in Hartford at this hour,” Dave “Pit Bull” Peterson said,

glancing at one of three computer screens surrounding his broadcast desk in the studios of

WCTR. “…thirty-seven in Meriden and 33 chilly degrees in Torrington. The Channel 3

Pinpoint Weather forecast calls for another sunny day, with highs in the mid-50s. And

now let’s get our first update on the Worlds Series with Sports Director Rich Poulin.”

Peterson pointed toward his in-studio engineer, who pressed a key on his

computer with his right hand, causing a canned snippet of music to play, the station’s

official sports theme. At the same time the engineer used his left hand to flip a switch on

a vast electronic console, activating the microphone in an adjacent studio, where the

Sports Director began delivering baseball and football scores.

Peterson pressed a button on a smaller console on his desk, which turned his

microphone off. He pulled his headphones down around his neck, leaned back in his

chair, and looked up at the ceiling. He let out a large sigh. The sports report would last

two minutes, followed by at least two more minutes of pre-recorded commercial spots.
During these regular breaks, if he didn’t have to use the men’s room, Peterson usually

surfed the Internet to find new material to discuss with callers.

With the left side of his headphones, the engineer monitored the sports report, as

it was his job to play the ads when it concluded. The right side headphone was perched

on his head above the ear. He leaned toward Peterson, about six feet away, and softly

said, “Pit Bull, you’re not yourself today. You all right?”

A few seconds passed before Peterson acknowledged the question. “I’m

exhausted,” he said, looking down. “I didn’t sleep at all last night.”

“Really? How come? You love to sleep.”

Peterson closed his eyes. I’ve got such a big mouth, he thought, angry at himself.

“Oh…just real busy yesterday…maybe too much coffee…a lot on my mind…you know.”

The engineer didn’t know. But he did realize it would be a long and tedious show

if Pit Bull did not get fired up and focused. That’s why people listened. A lively and

spirited show made the four-and-a-half hours fly by. On the other hand, a dull and clunky

broadcast made it seem like 10 a.m. would never come. “Hey, did you hear about the

drug murder over the weekend in your hometown?” the engineer said, hoping a violent

crime story would get Peterson’s juices flowing. “I’ve got two callers on hold—lines two

and four—who want to talk about it.”

Oh great, Peterson thought. “Well, I was planning to talk about the state budget

this morning. Did you see the story in the Courant? The governor wants to create another

new, useless spending program. Can you believe it?”

The engineer could believe it, since state spending was Pit Bull’s second favorite

topic—it was always too high and wasted too much taxpayer money. But Pit Bull’s
favorite topic, by far, was violent crime and the permissive lawyers and judges who, in

his firm opinion, allowed said crime to proliferate unchecked.

“So what should I, uh…” the engineer paused to focus on the sounds in his left

ear. He pressed a series of buttons as the sports report ended and the ads began. Now he

concentrated on his computer screen, clicked his mouse numerous times, in order to be

ready as the show’s precise schedule unfolded. “Dave,” he said hurriedly, “What do I do

with the callers?”

Peterson thought for a moment and said, “Clear the board. We’ll start over after I

talk about the state budget.”

The engineer shook his head in confusion. Clear the board? he thought. Red hot

topic falls in our lap, callers lined up before six o’clock, and he wants to talk about the

budget? This is gonna be a long morning.

Three hours later, which seemed like five hours later to the engineer, Peterson

concluded a scheduled telephone interview with a nationally-known political pundit in

Washington D.C. The pundit was on for a full ten minutes to hawk his new book, a

chronicle of corruption on Capitol Hill. God, that was awful, the engineer thought as he

disconnected the D.C. phone call. The guy thought he was talking to a radio station in

New Hampshire and he called Pit Bull “Don” at least four times. And Pit Bull never

even corrected him! Sheesh. “We’ll be back right after these messages with some open

phone time,” Peterson said. “I want to hear from you.”

Approximately four minutes later, after more commercial spots, another sports

update, and a traffic report, Peterson pondered one of his computer screens. The screen

listed callers currently on hold, displaying their first names, home towns, and discussion
topics. Of the four entries typed into the system by the engineer, who doubled as the

show’s call screener, three of the topics were some variation of “West Hartford shooting”

or “weekend drug murder.”

As soon as Peterson heard the traffic report finish in his headphones, he said,

“Thank you, Jennifer. It’s now twelve minutes before 9 o’clock. OK, let’s go straight to

the phones. We have Elaine from Manchester on line three, who wants to talk about our

liberal governor. Hello Elaine.”

“Hi Pit Bull, this is, uh, Elaine…from Manchester.”

I just said that, Pit Bull thought to himself. “Yes, hi Elaine,” he spoke out loud.

“So what do you think of our governor?”

“Oh, I think it’s awful. All they do is spend money and raise taxes over there in

Hartford. But Pit Bull, what do you think about that drug murder in West Hartford?

Terrible, isn’t it?”

“Well, uh, yeah, it’s terrible, of course,” Pit Bull stammered, now forced to

address the topic. “Anytime there is a violent crime in our state, it’s, uh, a tragic event.”

“No, I mean it’s terrible only one loser got killed,” Elaine explained. “Too bad

they didn’t both shoot each other at the same time, and then there’d be two dangerous

criminals off the streets.”

“Oh my, Elaine,” Pit Bull said, a bit flustered. “I guess that’s one way of looking

at it.”

“No, I’m serious,” she continued. “It’s like you always say, Pit Bull. We have to

clean up our streets. I don’t know exactly what happened in West Hartford, but I do know

that at least no innocent people got hurt.”

“Well, you never want to make judgments before all the facts are in, but from

what we’ve been told by the police, it does seem that the victim was not exactly an angel.

So I guess you might say no innocent people were hurt.” Peterson pondered this new

viewpoint, while Elaine continued to talk about cleaning up streets, impeaching judges,

imposing the death penalty, and a few other strong opinions about law and order. Most of

her opinions had been shaped by Pit Bull Peterson over the past decade.

No innocent people were hurt, Peterson thought to himself. His three co-

conspirators had been making the same point last night, but they had a vested interest in

that particular position. Now someone without a vested interest, someone who could offer

an unbiased opinion, someone who had no idea who had planned and carried out the

shooting, good ol’ Elaine from Manchester, was making the exact same point.


“Don’t you think so, Pit Bull?” Elaine paused, then repeated herself, “Don’t you

think so?” Peterson quickly came to his senses, realizing he hadn’t heard a word Elaine

said during the last minute or so.

“I’m sorry, Elaine. I was distracted here for a moment, uh, looking up something

on the Internet,” Peterson lied. “What was your question?”

“Oh, I was talking about those two crumb-bums who committed the home

invasion triple-murder in Wallingford last year. It would’ve been nice if someone had

shot them before the police arrived. Would’ve been quick and fair justice, and would’ve

saved the state a ton of money. Don’t you think?”

Peterson smiled and felt better than he had at any time during the past 24 hours.

“You know something, Elaine? You make a great point. I couldn’t agree with you more.

Thanks for calling. Let’s go to Mark on a cell phone. Mark, what’s on your mind?”

“Hey Pit Bull! Great to finally get through. You make my head explode! Heh,

heh. I been waitin’ for months to say that. So anyways, I guess that drug dealer in West

Hartford really had his head explode, huh? Heh, heh.”

“All right, Mark, my friend, thank you for calling and exercising your First

Amendment right,” Peterson said with a smile. “Ah, I see our old friend Waterbury Wally

in on line one. Hello sir! What’s new in the Center of the Universe?”

The studio engineer smiled as he watched and listened to Pit Bull Peterson hold

court. Took a while, but he finally got fired up, he thought. Maybe the last hour of the

show will be exciting after all.

Chapter 6

Monday, October 25th, 9:30 a.m.

Detective Mike Cavanaugh knocked on an office door inside the headquarters

building of the West Hartford Police Department. The stenciled words on the door read:

“Capt. Raymond R. Bradford.” A gruff voice inside responded to the knock. “Yeah?”

“It’s Cavanaugh,” the detective said. “I’ve got the preliminary info.”

“Come in,” Bradford said. Cavanaugh entered the office, which was similar to its

occupant, meticulous and clean. Cavanaugh often marveled at how neat and tidy Capt.

Bradford’s office was, considering the vast amount of paperwork he had to process each

day. By comparison, Cavanaugh’s cubicle usually looked like an explosion in a Staples


“Well, we’ve interviewed a bunch of Dykes’ friends and coworkers—not that he

had a lot of coworkers since he didn’t work too often.” Cavanaugh flipped the pages on a

small notebook. “Nobody heard anything, nobody suspected anything, and nobody can

think of a single person who might’ve wanted Dykes dead.”

“Yeah, a regular Mother Teresa,” Bradford said sarcastically. “Everyone loved

Cavanaugh smiled. Bradford could be a clever and funny guy. Cavanaugh saw

that side of him occasionally. But the captain’s intense personality and frequent outbursts

of anger overwhelmed any endearing personality traits he might’ve possessed. Around

the department, when an officer thought of Capt. Ray Bradford, the first word to pop into

his head was not “comedian.” It was more likely to be “jerk,” or a profane synonym.

“But here’s the weird thing, Captain,” Cavanaugh continued. “All of his friends

freely admitted Dykes was a drunk. They all figured he would die early, wrapped around

a tree somewhere. But every single one of them—including the girl he lived with—

insisted that he never did drugs. They said he hated drugs…pot, coke, pills, all of it. He

had that kind of redneck thing going, you know, a good ol’ boy drinker, yeah, but never

drugs. He wouldn’t even accept a free drink from anyone who used drugs—and he was

always looking for free drinks. So, it’s kinda weird he had cocaine on him.”

The captain didn’t seem too impressed or interested in this information. “Well, his

friends could be covering for him. Or themselves.”


“Or he could’ve been selling the stuff to make money, but never used it himself,

like some dealers do.”

“Well, if that’s the case,” Cavanaugh said, “he wasn’t a very good businessman.

The guy barely had enough money for shots and beer. Pretty much lived off his

girlfriend’s income.”

“Hmm…” Bradford grunted. “Lots of people are lousy businessmen. Look at us.

We became cops. Makes us a couple of financial geniuses, doesn’t it?”

Cavanaugh suppressed a laugh. The captain could be a pleasant guy, if he wanted.

But it seemed he never wanted. Cavanaugh was convinced the atmosphere around the

WHPD could be so much better if Bradford would only lighten up a little and show his

funny, personable side once in a while. He still could be a really good cop, but at the

same time he also could be a really good guy. I know he’s capable of being human,

Cavanaugh often thought, but he just doesn’t seem to give a damn about that.

“Well, continue to work with the state police,” Bradford said. “If you get a clear

lead on a possible shooter, track him down. But don’t knock yourself out.”

“Captain, uh, we have a murder in a residential neighborhood,” Cavanaugh said.

“Don’t you think the townspeople will be expecting, uh, I mean, don’t you think we

ought to…”

“Look,” Bradford interrupted, “when a woman and her two daughters get raped

and killed in their own home, that’s murder. When someone’s driving home from the

supermarket and a drunk driver plows into the car head-on, that’s murder.” Bradford

paused and gazed out the window for a moment, his jaw becoming noticeably clenched.

He took a deep breath and looked Cavanaugh in the eyes. “This thing here?” Bradford

said, “We have a serial D.U.I. punk, a lazy, unemployed bum who is now dead and off

the roads. I’m not shedding any tears for this guy. And I’m not authorizing lots of PD

resources and overtime for a major investigation. Understand?”

“Yes sir,” Cavanaugh replied. “You got it. When I get the toxicology report from

the lab I’ll let you know what his blood alcohol level was, and whether he had any

cocaine in his system.”

“Fine,” Bradford said curtly. He then opened a manila folder on his desk and

began reading. As far as the captain was concerned, the meeting was over and Cavanaugh

no longer was present inside the office. I hate when he does this, Cavanaugh thought as

he stood there feeling awkward. He quietly exited the office.

“Man, that guy is a piece of work,” Cavanaugh muttered while walking back to

his cubicle. It’s almost like he wants people to dislike him, he said to himself. Cavanaugh

thought back to a time, at least 15 years earlier, when Bradford, then Sergeant Bradford,

was both a good cop and a likeable guy. But that was before the accident.

Back when both police officers were in their early 30s, Sergeant Ray Bradford

was a rising star on the police force. Dedicated, hard-working, smart, he was sure to

become a captain one day, maybe even chief. Bradford was a dedicated family man, too.

He had a lovely wife and two young daughters. His was the classic all-American,

suburban family.

Then one day in mid-December, just after dusk, Bradford’s wife was driving

home from the grocery store. The three-year-old daughter was securely strapped in a car-

seat in back; the six-year-old was in the front seat next to her mother. As their Ford

Escort drove along South Main Street in West Hartford, a Chevy Impala swerved across

the center line and hit Mrs. Bradford’s car head-on. The driver of the Impala was a 35-

year-old insurance agent, heading home after a Christmas office party. He was quite


The six-year-old girl in the front seat died instantly. The toddler in the back seat

was banged up but OK. Mrs. Bradford sustained severe injuries to her head and chest.

She lingered in the Intensive Care Unit of St. Francis Hospital in Hartford for about a
week before finally passing away. She never regained consciousness. The driver of the

Impala walked away from the crash without a scratch.

Mike Cavanaugh was a patrolmen at the time. He didn’t know Sgt. Bradford too

well, but what he did know of him he liked. After the accident, Bradford became a

different person. The deaths of his wife and daughter just devastated him.

Few members on the force these days were around back then. The younger guys

just assume Capt. Bradford was born a jerk. However, Det. Cavanaugh was old enough to

remember. He understood that the captain’s cold, distant, and anti-social personality was

not inbred; it developed only after his all-American, suburban family was shattered.

One of the side effects of Bradford’s altered personality was a burning hatred

toward anyone who dared to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle after drinking. For

many years he volunteered to work Saturday night sobriety checkpoints, and not a few

drivers arrested for D.U.I. woke up the next morning in the WHPD holding cell with

more than a hang over. The lumps and bruises were explained away with a shrug and the

comment: “You musta stumbled and hit your head when we put you in the cell last

night.” A few expensive out-of-court settlements put an end to that rough and tumble


When the drunk driver who destroyed Bradford’s family was given a slap on the

wrist—a fine, probation, and loss of driver’s license for two years—Bradford was livid.

He began to follow the man around town. “Stalking” was the word used by the man’s

attorney when he filed a complaint with the Police Department. Eventually Bradford was

given a mild reprimand for harassing the man, which incensed him even further. The man

finally moved out of state, mostly to get away from Bradford’s hateful gaze. This hatred
for drunk drivers prompted Bradford to suggest the vigilante group’s first target, and to

volunteer to conduct the group’s first “mission.”

Det. Cavanaugh sat at his messy desk, in his even messier cubicle, and asked

himself, How would I react if my family were suddenly destroyed? Then he cringed,

realizing that he had been using that same word—destroyed—whenever he thought about

his family. He never failed to get a sinking feeling of despair deep in his gut whenever he

thought about that fateful day almost four years earlier when his wife of 16 years, Susan,

came home from work and announced matter-of-factly that she wanted a divorce. Two

days later Susan and their two children, Mike Jr., age 14, and Sarah, age 11, were on a

flight to Phoenix, where they moved in with Susan’s sister. In the four years since his

marriage dissolved, Cavanaugh had seen his kids exactly five times.

Whenever Cavanaugh thought about his ex-wife and kids, thousands of miles

away in Arizona, his whole countenance sank. He had thrown many spur-of-the-moment

pity parties for himself during the past four years. Now, having gone from mild

annoyance at Bradford to major self pity in a matter of moments, brought on by the mere

thought of his children, the following thought actually ran through his head: Well, at least

Bradford still has one kid. Both of mine are gone.

The instant Cavanaugh completed that thought, he shook his head, ashamed of

himself for even thinking such a thing. Bradford’s wife and daughter were dead,

tragically killed in a head-on collision. His ex-wife and children were very much alive,

and that, of course, made a huge difference.

Then Det. Cavanaugh thought about Bradford’s surviving daughter, Tina. She

was a toddler at the time of the accident, and over the years the girl was the only thing
that could bring a smile to Bradford’s face. Bradford’s sister in a nearby town helped a

great deal in raising the child, but it was Bradford himself who did most of the cooking

and cleaning and checking of homework. He was practically a model parent. For as rude

and cold and mean he was at work, he was just as much kind and caring and thoughtful

with Tina. Bradford acted as if Tina was the only thing that made life worth living,

because in fact for him, she was.

Cavanaugh remembered that a couple months earlier Capt. Bradford was in an

especially foul mood. One of the other officers explained the situation. Bradford had just

moved Tina, now age 18, into the freshmen dorms at Central Connecticut State

University. Although New Britain was only 15 minutes away, Bradford was crushed that

his little girl, the only connection to his once all-American, suburban family—the only

person on the planet that made him feel human—was grown up and no longer living

under his roof. Everyone at the WHPD walked on egg shells that week.
Chapter 7

Monday, October 25th, 2:05 p.m.

Rev. G.W. Morton set a satchel on the shelf of one of the bays at the Coyote Gun

Club in Bristol, Connecticut. Since two other shooters were firing away in other bays,

Morton had already put on his ear protection before entering the firing range room. Even

after all these years, the muffled sound of the repeated explosions and lingering echoes

off the concrete walls always struck Morton as odd. It was very different compared to the

sound firearms made when used in the great outdoors.

Rev. Morton was a member of the shooting club, and usually stopped by the range

at least once per month to shoot at targets with the assortment of revolvers and pistols he

owned. Target shooting was one of his favorite hobbies. Morton had learned to shoot as a

boy. Like most youth in southwestern Missouri, hunting and target shooting were a

routine part of growing up, which was quite unlike New England, a fact Morton

discovered when he traveled north to start his latest church. When Morton had become

convinced that the Lord was prompting him to move his ministry to the secular northeast,

he knew the culture would be different. But he was genuinely surprised at the attitude

toward firearms. Very few people in Connecticut had ever even fired a gun, let alone own
one. And a large number of people were convinced that guns themselves were inherently

evil, as if a manmade steel device could make moral decisions. Conventional wisdom

back home in Missouri, wisdom Morton accepted wholeheartedly, was that the true

source of good or evil was located in the heart and soul of the person holding the gun, not

the gun itself.

Morton opened his satchel and began to remove weapons, boxes of ammunition,

and paper targets. He had with him on this day his favorite pistol, an expensive 9mm full-

sized Beretta, model M9, which could hold a maximum of 16 rounds. He also brought

along his silver Smith and Wesson .357 magnum revolver. He was extremely accurate

with both of these guns. However, the third firearm he pulled out of his satchel was the

real reason Morton was at the range. He wanted to get familiar with the pistol Capt. Ray

Bradford had given him, a blue steel Glock, model 26, known as the “Baby Glock,” a

sub-compact 9mm weapon designed for concealed carry.

When the four-member secret vigilante group first had formed about six months

earlier, they agreed on a handful of ironclad rules. First, absolutely no one else besides

the four men were to know about the group. No talking, no bragging, no communication

to anyone whatsoever about the existence of the group. That was the most important rule.

The next rule was that each of the four members would be fully involved in the

group’s activities. All four men had an equal say in planning the missions, including the

selection of targets. And each member would take his turn—hopefully multiple turns—to

be the trigger man. There would be no “hired guns,” no contracting with outsiders to do

the dirty work. Each of the four men would take full responsibility for the group’s actions

—all of its actions. That was one of the first things Capt. Bradford insisted on when the
discussions of the four men moved from the “wouldn’t that be interesting” stage to the

“we really should do it” stage. Having everyone take turns to carry out the missions

would be the best way to insure that everyone was not only fully committed to their

primary goal—ridding the community of thugs who made a mockery of the criminal

justice system—but also fully committed to keeping silent about the conspiracy.

Each man in the group knew the seriousness of their undertaking. They knew

what they were risking. If events did not turn out as planned, scandal, shame,

imprisonment, and even death were very distinct possibilities. Long and respected careers

would be ruined overnight. If things went poorly, if average citizens did not understand

what they were trying to do, they knew they would go down in history forever as a group

of psychotic murders. When the decision was made to move forward, the group members

solemnly pledged to each other to risk everything for their common goal. They even used

the concluding words of the Declaration of Independence to swear their allegiance to one

another as they embarked on their noble mission: “With a firm reliance on the protection

of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our

sacred Honor.”

The group’s final formal rule was that Capt. Bradford would provide the weapons.

Each of the other three men had pistol permits and owned guns. But the missions would

be carried out using the untraceable firearms Bradford had collected over the years. A

few of these guns were from the days when the WHPD’s evidence room was one big

knick-knack drawer. Firearms and drugs and all kinds of miscellaneous items were piled

hither and yon in the often unlocked room. Record-keeping was practically non-existent.

An officer could walk in and grab whatever suited his fancy. Only after a major scandal
did the situation change. About ten years ago, two West Hartford cops were arrested for

selling drugs to drug dealers, drugs which had been seized in prior raids. The state police

and FBI were called in to institute a strict inventory and accounting system. Now it was

very difficult to swipe anything from the evidence room. There were too many checks

and balances in place.

This did not bother Capt. Bradford. He still had been able to increased his secret

gun collection over the years using a different method: grab the desired item before it

ever made it to the evidence room. The ideal situation for this was a drug bust. If the

person being arrested had a pistol in his pocket, that was all the police needed to add a

felony firearm charge. If other guns happened to be uncovered in the drug dealer’s house

or car, those weapons simply disappeared long before anything was turned over to the

evidence room inventory management team. Capt. Bradford assured the other three group

members it would be a long time before they ran out of untraceable guns.

One other group rule, which was not really official and had never been spoken

aloud, was that any group member who got cold feet and wanted out—or even worse,

who threatened to reveal the conspiracy—would be considered an appropriate target.

Capt. Bradford’s grim stare and fiery eyes spoke this message eloquently, without the

need for words. One-hundred-percent commitment and no turning back were the rallying

cries of the group. Each of the four men fully understood this, and each of the four men,

Dave Peterson’s momentary crisis of faith the night before notwithstanding, were fully

committed to carrying out the group’s goals.

Rev. Morton loaded fifteen 9mm rounds into a magazine clip and then snapped

the clip into the hand grip of his Beretta. He put the gun down on the shelf and attached a
paper “bulls eye” target to an overhead cable and pulley system, using two clothes pin

type spring clips. Pressing a switch on the left side wall of the little shooting booth, he

watched as the motorized cable moved the target out into the firing lane. When the target

reached the 25-foot mark, Rev. Morton took his hand off the switch. I like to warm up at

short distances, he thought. With his right hand he lifted up the pistol. With his left hand

he grabbed the slide and gently pulled it back. Then he let the slide snap forward,

chambering the first round. With his right thumb he moved the safety lever to the off

position. With his left hand he checked briefly to make sure the cups of his ear protectors

were directly centered over each ear. Then he spread his feet apart to about shoulder

width, flexed his knees slightly, and raised the pistol using both hands. Closing his left

eye, he focused with his right on the gun sights. When the center of the target’s bulls-eye

was right at the tip of the gun sight, he pulled the trigger. A loud boom exploded in the

room, the roar and echo sounding muffled in Rev. Morton’s ears.

Rev. Morton looked out at the target and saw a small hole about one inch from

dead center. Not bad, he thought. He raised the gun again and carefully fired off six more

shots, pausing a few seconds between each to re-aim. The clump of small holes on the

target were within two inches of center. Then he raised the gun and began fire rapidly,

taking less than six second to empty the eight remaining rounds. The target now had

small holes all over it, many nowhere near the center. I probably missed the target

completely on a couple of those, he thought. Rapid-fire shooting was not too accurate, but

he just loved to do it.

Rev. Morton had planned to shoot with the Beretta for a while, switch to the .357

revolver, and then when he was good and warmed up, finally try the Glock. But now he
couldn’t wait. He just had to know what that small pistol, the pistol he would use on his

first “mission,” felt like. He brought the target back in and replaced it with a clean sheet.

Then he sent it back out to the 25-foot mark. He began to load six 9mm rounds into the

Glock’s small magazine clip.

As he prepared the gun, Rev. Morton whispered to the weapon, “You, my friend,

are a sword for the Lord. You are a tool of righteousness, which will help to purge evil

from a desperate and hurting world.” He thought about the other three men, and how they

had formed their vigilante group in the first place. Tom Wilkins was the one who

originally knew the other three men. His family had been selling Ford vehicles, mostly

Crown Victorias, to the West Hartford PD for decades. Because of this connection, he

had become friends with Ray Bradford, as much as that’s possible. Tom’s dealership also

advertised for years on WCTR radio. He and Pit Bull Peterson went way back, their

families even vacationing together. Pit Bull often did live broadcasts on Saturday

mornings from the Wilkins Ford-Nissan showroom. Rev. Morton first met Tom Wilkins

about four years earlier. Wilkins barged into Rev. Morton’s office at the Faith Cathedral

one day. He was distraught and seeking help. Mrs. Wilkins had threatened not only to

divorce him, but also to make a public stink about his strip-club-and-prostitutes lifestyle.

Wilkins knew his life was a mess and had heard that the Faith Cathedral could help. A

deep and close friendship began that day.

At first, the idea of forming a vigilante group was just talk, a bunch of hot air

when four powerful personalities got together to complain about lawlessness and the

lenient criminal justice system. Rev. Morton could not remember which of the four was

the first to discuss the idea in earnest, as if they really could and should do it. Probably
Capt. Bradford, he thought. After all those months of talking, Rev. Morton was a bit in

disbelief that the plan was now in action. As Pit Bull had expressed the night before, “It’s

real now.” Unlike Pit Bull, Rev. Morton had no temporary crisis of faith, no lingering

doubts. He knew, absolutely knew, they were doing the right thing.

Holding the Glock at arm’s length, Rev. Morton aimed and fired. The pistol was

double-action only. He could not cock the hammer first and then gently squeeze the

trigger a fraction of an inch to discharge the weapon. With this gun, he had to pull the

trigger a relatively long distance so that the internal hammer would cock back and then

snap forward against the firing pin all in one motion. This, along with the very short

barrel, made the gun far less accurate than the Beretta. Rev. Morton looked out at the

target. A small hole was visible at the lower-left corner of the paper sheet, at least nine

inches away from dead-center. He scowled and then tried again. The next hole was about

five inches directly above center. When the gun was empty, six hole were scattered on

the target, with only one within a few inches of center. Oh well, he thought, it’s just not a

very accurate pistol at a distance of 25-feet. Then he smiled and thought, But it only has

to be accurate at a distance of one-foot.

Chapter 8

Tuesday, October 26th, 10:50 a.m.

Fr. Dan Cavanaugh paused after reading the final scripture verse, then said, “The

Gospel of the Lord.” Only about half of the 30 people scattered in the pews at St.

Lawrence Church knew the reply, and weakly mumbled, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus


Fr. Dan closed the Lectionary book, placed it on a shelf of the Ambo, more

commonly known as the pulpit, and grabbed a sheet of yellow lined paper, which

contained his homily notes. This was one of the worst parts of his job. Fr. Dan knew that

he was expected to speak about the deceased, who was lying in the casket about fifteen

feet away, as if he or she had been a good friend. Sometimes the dearly departed had

indeed been a close friend of Fr. Dan. For those funeral Masses he did not need notes; he

could speak eloquently and passionately from the heart. But most of the funerals he did,

included today’s, were for people he either barely knew or had never met at all.

Technically, Fr. Dan only had to perform funeral Masses for parishioners. And

technically “parishioner” was defined as someone active in the parish who attended Mass

regularly. So technically, Fr. Dan should’ve been acquainted with every dearly departed
about whom he had to speak. But Fr. Dan knew he did not live in a “technically” type

world. If someone came to the church Rectory and tearfully told Fr. Dan that a loved one

—father, mother, uncle, cousin, neighbor, grandmother, you name it—had passed away,

he never turned them down. He knew how important the funeral ritual was for grieving

family members. Whenever he noticed he was becoming a bit cold and jaded about

funerals, he just thought back to the time his own father died suddenly when Dan was

only 17 years old.

It was about this same time of year, late October. Dan Cavanaugh, a senior at

Conard High School in West Hartford, was the starting quarterback on the school football

team. One of his favorite targets was his younger brother, Mike, a sophomore. The Cav-

to-Cav combination had already hooked up for 11 touchdown passes, with three games

still left to go in the season. More importantly, Conard High, for the first time in decades,

was undefeated and in position for its first-ever trip to the state playoffs.

Dan and Mike came home from football practice. It was a Wednesday and already

dark. As they jumped out of Peter Reynolds’ car, who was one of the few guys on the

team who owned a car and gave the brothers a ride home every night, they saw an

ambulance parked in the driveway. Just as they approached the small two-bedroom cape,

paramedics burst out of the front door wheeling a stretcher. One paramedic was

performing CPR on the person lying on the stretcher. Despite the oxygen mask on the

person’s face, the boys knew instantly it was their father.

The next few days were a blur. The family was devastated. Mike took the news

especially hard, as did their mother. They loved Daniel Patrick Cavanaugh, Sr. Everyone

did. He taught them how to play ball. He checked their homework. He chastised them
when they needed it, which was often, but never let them forget how much he cared for

them and how proud he was of them. He taught the boys to love God and to respect the

Church, even if sometimes the people who run the Church acted more like Pharisees than

good shepherds. In talking with some of the other guys at school over the years, it

became clear that Dan and Mike were very fortunate. Many of their friends came from

terrible homes, where drunkenness, physical abuse, and, maybe worst of all, emotional

abuse, were quite common.

As the older brother, Dan felt responsible for helping his mother and brother cope

with their sudden and crushing loss. But he was powerless. There was nothing he could

do except grieve along with them. From the moment his dad died, Dan felt burdened to

care for his family. That’s why he was especially glad when his request to be transferred

to his boyhood parish was approved by the Archdiocese three years ago. He finally was

back home, close to his elderly mom and younger brother, the recently divorced cop. Dan

was able to help his distraught brother in ways not possible if he were still assigned to his

old parish in Branford, over an hour away.

The only thing Dan remembered clearly from the days just after his dad’s death

was the funeral Mass. At the last minute, their regular pastor was stricken with a stomach

bug, and so a kindly old priest, Fr. William Blaney, pinch-hit on a moment’s notice to

conduct the Mass. At first, it seemed like another cruel blow. First, their father suddenly

was dead; then a priest who never even met him was going to do the funeral Mass. What

did he possibly know about their dad? But to everyone’s surprise, Fr. Blaney’s homily

was the most compassionate and comforting words they had ever heard. Using a few

tidbits of personal information gleaned from the two teenagers just before Mass began,
the kindly old priest wove together a stirring presentation, focusing on these themes: God

loves everyone more than we can begin to comprehend, and our entire natural life here on

earth is just the pre-season training camp of our eternal existence. Fr. Blaney logically

and powerfully made the case that God had a very good reason for calling home Daniel

Patrick Cavanaugh, Sr.—although no one can comprehend it at the moment—and

everybody present in the church could be reunited with him someday if they just put their

faith in the Lord.

Fr. Dan often thought about that terribly sad and terribly wonderful day. Although

Fr. Blaney was destined to be called home himself less than four months later, his

compassionate homily brought great comfort to the Cavanaugh clan. It also planted the

first seed in Dan’s mind about maybe choosing the priesthood as his career vocation.

Now, over 30 years later, Fr. Dan thought about the kindly old priest’s homily every time

he had to preside over a funeral. Not surprisingly, whether he was acquainted with the

person in the casket or not—such as on this day—Fr. Dan’s talk usually focused on two

main themes: God loves us all more than we can comprehend, and our entire natural life

here on earth is exceedingly brief compared to our eternal existence.

Fr. Dan looked down at the yellow lined page, where he had scribbled some basic

facts and figures, names and places, about the deceased. In large letters at the top of the

page was written: DAVID “DAVE” MORIARTY. He made a habit of writing the name

of the deceased in large letters on all of the notes and readings he would use during a

funeral. One time, many years earlier, he had referred to a man named Tim as “Tom”

throughout the funeral, and caught loads of grief afterward from the angry family. Fr.

Dan would never make that mistake again.

As he spoke, Fr. Dan looked mostly at the next of kin in the front pews. About

halfway through his homily, he looked out at the handful of other people scattered in the

church. In a pew near the rear of the church, on the right hand side from Fr. Dan’s point

of view, he spied an angelic face staring at him and hanging on every word he said. It was

Anna Rivera. Anna was one of the most dedicated parishioners at St. Lawrence church.

She was a bit on an anomaly for the old and dying parish: she was only 38 years old. And

she was a bit of an anomaly for any group of average citizens: she was drop-dead


Many times Fr. Dan would be distributing communion at one of the Sunday

Masses, and as a person received the host from Fr. Dan and then stepped aside, the priest

suddenly would find himself face-to-face with a living fashion magazine cover. During

the summer, if Anna wore a low-cut, form-fitting dress, Fr. Dan’s face would blush.

Wherever she went, Anna Rivera turned heads. And not a few husbands felt a sharp jolt

to their ribs, as their wives’ elbows gave a silent and painful message: “Put your eyes

back in your head, you old fool!”

The odd thing about Anna Rivera was that she did not realize just how attractive

she was. At age 38, she looked no more than 28. She worked for the State of Connecticut

as an accounting clerk in one of the many office buildings surrounding the Capitol in

Hartford. She had been a devoted wife until her husband died of cancer five years earlier.

Now she was a devoted mother, who prayed constantly for her two teenage children, one

boy and one girl. She didn’t go on dates, as far as anyone knew. And she had no idea how

many men would jump at the chance to be with her. The fact that she was so good

looking, but didn’t quite realize how much, and that she never flirted or flaunted her
beauty, only made her even more alluring to men. Unfortunately, because of her looks,

much vicious and untrue gossip was spread about her.

When Fr. Dan saw that Anna was in the church, he smiled briefly and continued

his homily without missing a beat. He was not surprised to see her, as she often used

vacation days from her job to attend weekday funeral Masses, just to pray and offer

comfort to the grieving family, whether she knew them personally or not. Fr. Dan was

glad she was in attendance. He was always glad when she was in his presence—

sometimes too glad. If he could jokingly think that he needed to go to confession because

of what he thought about the parish’s chronic complainer, Mrs. Mullen, then when he

was near Anna Rivera, it was no joke that he often thought to himself, Now I gotta go to

Confession—for what I’m thinking about her.

Fr. Dan had become puzzled in recent years. When he was a newly ordained

priest in his mid-twenties, and throughout his thirties, he rarely struggled with his vow of

celibacy. Lustful thoughts were rare. As he moved through his forties, and especially

after being transferred to St. Lawrence and meeting Anna Rivera, he found himself more

and more preoccupied with the idea of being intimately involved with a woman. On the

verge of turning 50, he thought those temptations would be a thing of the past. Maybe the

problem was for the first time since becoming a priest he experienced prolonged periods

of extreme loneliness. Or maybe the problem was that the widow Rivera was simply a

Chapter 9

Thursday, November 4th, 4:30 p.m.

Rev. G.W. Morton sat in a silver Nissan Maxima parked on a quiet stretch of

Flatbush Avenue, near the intersection with Oakwood, in a section of West Hartford that

is part industrial, part low income residential neighborhood. The car was supplied by

Tom Wilkins from his used car lot. In the right hand pocket of Rev. Morton’s black

overcoat was the Glock pistol, given to him by Capt. Bradford. In his left coat pocket was

a flashlight. On his hands were black leather gloves, and on his head was a grey tweed

touring cap to cover his prominent silver hair. Rev. Morton kept a watchful eye on the

sidewalk alongside Flatbush Ave., looking for any sign of his target, a young man called


The secret vigilante group had agreed the next target should be a drug dealer.

After reviewing a sizable list of possible targets provided by Capt. Bradford, they chose a

19-year-old man known to everyone in the area as “Jitterbug.” The nickname came from

his days as a football and basketball star at Conard High School. Jitterbug could have

gone on to play college ball, but why bother with college, he reasoned, when you can

make close to $75,000 per year tax-free selling drugs. From all accounts Jitterbug was a
very kind and polite young man, something Rev. Morton hoped to capitalize on. Jitterbug

only had two flaws: he liked to sell cocaine to 8th graders, and he liked to get 10th

graders pregnant. Word was that at least three infants currently being pushed in strollers

around neighborhood streets by unmarried teenager girls looked an awful lot like


The target was selected in large part because he had regular habits. Almost every

afternoon Jitterbug played basketball at the Charter Oak playground, where he dazzled

the other kids with his quickness and shooting touch, and also set up numerous drug

deals. Just before dark he would walk the two blocks along Flatbush Ave. toward his

house, where his mom was preparing dinner. After dinner he would kiss his mom on the

cheek, tell her he was going to hang out with some friends, and leave to complete his

many lucrative transactions. Another habit that made Jitterbug the target of choice was

the fact he always wore a red New York Yankees hat with white pinstripes. It would be

easy for Rev. Morton to spot him.

Rev. Morton reached down with his left hand and pulled the lever that releases the

hood latch—for the fifth time. He knew the car’s hood was already unlatched, since he

had opened the hood 20 minutes earlier. At that time he had draped an extra spark plug

wire across the engine and then gently lowered the hood, making sure it did not click

shut. During the time Rev. Morton sat waiting, only three people had passed, two

teenagers on foot and an adult on a bicycle. On the side of the street where the Nissan

was parked, beyond the sidewalk, was a chain link fence. Behind the fence was an open

lot, overgrown with weeds, where a factory once stood. On the opposite side of the street

was a two-story factory building that spanned an entire block. The factory had no
windows facing the street. No one could see Rev. Morton unless he or she walked right

up to the car. This is the perfect spot to conduct the “mission,” he thought. Very quiet

street. Then he reminded himself of the firm instructions Capt. Bradford had given him:

“We’re not in a hurry. We can always do it another day. If there is anyone else on the

street, abort the mission.”

To drown out Capt. Bradford’s voice, which was replaying in his head, Rev.

Morton began to pray. Quietly he said, “O Lord, please make my hand firm and my aim

true. Please guide me as I do your work here on earth. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

Instinctively he closed his eyes halfway through the pray. When he looked up after

saying “Amen,” he saw a figure walking down the sidewalk. The car was facing west and

the setting sun made it difficult to see in that direction. A few moments later, as the figure

drew to within about 50 yards, Rev. Morton saw that the figure was bouncing a

basketball as he walked. The red baseball cap perched sideways on the figure’s head

caused Morton to blurt out loudly, “That’s him!” He hurried out of the car and lifted the

car’s hood. He pulled the flashlight from his coat and leaned over, pretending to look at

the car’s engine, but instead he concentrated on the bouncing sound as it drew nearer and

nearer. The sound of Rev. Morton’s heart pounding in his chest almost drowned out the

sound of the basketball.

When the young man with the basketball was about ten feet away, Rev. Morton

stood up straight, shook his head, and said loudly, “Darn it!” Even as he intended to gun

down a total stranger, the good Reverend could not bring himself to use profanity.

Jitterbug slowed down and looked at the middle-aged man with the disabled car,

noticing that he was very well-dressed, with a shirt and tie, black overcoat, tweed cap,
and polished wing tip shoes. Jitterbug instantly pegged him as a salesman who was

visiting one of the nearby factories. With a pleading tone in his voice, Rev. Morton said,

“Excuse me, do you know anything about cars?”

Jitterbug shrugged and said, “A little. What’s the problem?”

Rev. Morton took a step away from the car and replied, “I’m not sure. It just

won’t start.” Jitterbug stepped off the sidewalk and reached down to set the basketball on

the road against the curb, so it wouldn’t roll away. He took the flashlight from Rev.

Morton’s extended hand. Spinning his cap directly backwards, with the bill in back like a

baseball catcher, Jitterbug leaned toward the engine and began looking for anything out

of the ordinary. As the young man bent over in front of him, Rev. Morton pulled the

Glock from his coat, reached out his arm to less than a foot from Jitterbug’s head, and

squeezed the trigger.

Nothing happened. The trigger wouldn’t move. The safety is still on! a panicky

voice screamed inside Rev. Morton’s head. Just then Jitterbug turned. Rev. Morton

lurched his right arm down alongside his leg, as if snapping to attention. “What the hell is

this?” Jitterbug said. Morton stared at him.

Jitterbug raised his hand, which held the loose spark plug wire. “What is this?” he

asked again.

Rev. Morton stared at the wire. He was frozen, like a soldier on guard duty, but

his mind was racing, on the verge of panic. Jitterbug had not seen the gun. Morton

pressed the black gun, held by his black-gloved hand, against his black overcoat, hoping

the weapon would blend in and not be visible. The sun had just dipped below the horizon

and it was getting darker by the moment. Rev. Morton tried to remain calm, but his heart
was pounding like a jackhammer. He could feel his forehead getting clammy with sweat.

Finally, he cleared his throat and said weakly, “Uh, I don’t know. Where’s it supposed to

be connected?”

Jitterbug turned back toward the car and said, “Well, man, it’s suppose to be over

here, uh, somewhere…”

Rev. Morton’s right thumb quietly pushed the gun’s safety to the off position.

Jitterbug continued, “…but it don’t look like anything’s missing there…”

Once again Rev. Morton raised his right arm to within a foot of Jitterbug’s head.

He squeezed the trigger, which this time did move. A loud explosion burst from the

weapon. A 9mm slug tore directly through the center of the interlocking N-Y logo on the

cap, then through the back of Jitterbug’s skull. After ripping through the entire length of

his brain, the slug came to a stop just behind the left eye.

Jitterbug’s lifeless body slumped onto the car engine. Blood seeped from under

the baseball cap and down his neck. Rev. Morton stood still, the only movement coming

from his chest, which heaved in and out with his rapid breathing. After a second or two,

he sprang into action, noting with puzzlement that the gun blast had sounded more like

the shooting range boom and echo rather than the higher pitched crack he had expected in

the great outdoors. He quickly shoved the pistol into his coat pocket. Then he grabbed

Jitterbug by his belt and pulled him off of the car, careful not to get any blood on his

overcoat in the process. The body fell to the road and settled against the sidewalk curb,

right next to the basketball. Rev. Morton reached onto the motor and grabbed the loose

spark plug wire and flashlight. He closed the hood, then hopped into the car and turned

the key. The engine roared to life. He backed up about five feet, to make sure he did not
run over Jitterbug’s body. Then he pulled forward and away from the curb, and drove

down Flatbush Avenue. At the end of the road he took a right. A few blocks later he took

another right. As he drove, his shaking hands put the gun, the flashlight, the spark plug

wire, and his gloves into a blue plastic bag.

Rev. Morton steered the Maxima north onto New Park Avenue. He noticed that

he was drenched in sweat. His breathing finally had returned to normal, and his hands

had stopped shaking, but he could feel that his undershirt was soaked. His mind stopped

racing a bit, and he began to replay in his head the events of the preceding five minutes.

Only then did Rev. Morton realized that he had never checked to see if anyone else was

on the street when he began speaking with Jitterbug. The Reverend’s damp undershirt

suddenly felt freezing cold.

Chapter 10

Thursday, November 4th, 4:55 p.m.

Rev. Morton steered the silver Maxima into the Service Department entrance

driveway of the Wilkins Ford-Nissan dealership. He drove around to the rear of the

building and pulled into an empty parking space. He entered the building through the

door that was next to the four roll-up garage doors, the same entrance he always used

when he visited the dealership, either to see Tom Wilkins socially during the day, or to

attend secret vigilante group meetings at night. Under his left arm Rev. Morton clutched a

blue plastic bag. In his right hand he held the gray cap, which he had taken off when he

walked through the doorway. His silver hair was wet with sweat, and matted down on his


Many of the workers in the service area were finishing up for the day, putting

their tools away, washing their hands in the large utility sink, and turning in oil-smudged

paperwork at the service manager’s counter. Most of the workers recognized Rev.

Morton, since he was a frequent visitor. Some of them knew the reverend personally, as

they attended the Faith Cathedral. Tom Wilkins urged all of his employees to attend Rev.

Morton’s church. Ever since his personal conversion, Wilkins was not shy about
discussing his new-found faith in God with his employees and even with his customers.

Some were turned off by it, but most understood it was just his sincere belief. Those who

had known Tom Wilkins for many years realized his new faith in God had transformed

his life—for the better. They were genuinely happy for him, even if they did not share his

evangelical zeal. Besides, Wilkins was not the type to beat people over the head with a

Bible. He was more interested in “beating people over the head” with the keys to a brand

new Ford.

A couple of mechanics waved as the clergyman walked toward the showroom

area. Rev. Morton smiled and waved back, the cap still in his hand. He made his way

down a small hallway, turned left, then walked to the last door on the right. He knocked

on this door, which quickly was pulled open by Tom Wilkins, who stood with an anxious

expression on his face. “Come in, G.W.” he said. Rev. Morton entered Wilkins’ office,

which was adorned with family photos, dealership award plaques, and framed

inspirational Christian paintings and poems.

Wilkins closed the door just as quickly as he had opened it. He grabbed Rev.

Morton by the elbow and said, “Well…?”

Rev. Morton smiled slightly, nodded his head, and said, “Mission completed.”

“Yeah, really?” Wilkins said, almost breathlessly. “You, you did it?”

“Did it. It’s over. The target is, uh…down. Done. No more.”

“Whew!” Wilkins said. “I’ve been sitting here fidgeting for a the last hour, going

out of my mind. Whew, good job, G.W.” He stepped away from the preacher, and

noticed his matted down hair. “Jeez, what did you do, jog all the way over here? You’re

all sweaty.”
“Oh, well…” the preacher stammered, “I, uh, it was kind of tense, of course. The

adrenaline gets flowing, you know, and before you know it, well…”

“Hey,” Wilkins interrupted, no longer interested in adrenaline or sweat, “Was the

street clear? Did you see anyone else anywhere near you when you, uh, did it?”

Rev. Morton paused for a moment, then replied with complete honesty, “I did not

see anyone on the street at all.”

“So you’re positive that no one saw you?” Wilkins asked.

Rev. Morton paused again, then lied, “Yes. I am positive.”

“Great,” Wilkins said, breathing a big sigh of relief. “Let’s call the captain.” He

went behind his desk, sat down, and dialed Capt. Bradford’s cell phone number. Then he

pressed a button to put the call on speaker phone.

Recognizing the phone number and expecting a call, Bradford answered with a

curt, “Yeah?”

“It’s done,” Wilkins said.

“Any complications?” Bradford asked.

Wilkins glanced at Rev. Morton, who shook his head from side to side. “No,”

Wilkins said. “None at all.”

“Good,” Bradford said, then hung up. Bradford already knew the mission had

been completed. He had been standing inside the emergency dispatch room of the WHPD

headquarters when the 9-1-1 call came in. A body lying in the street on Flatbush Avenue.

Apparent gunshot wound to the head. No sign of life. It had only been mere minutes since

patrolmen and an ambulance arrived at the scene, but from what Bradford could discern

by listening to the radio conversations, it seemed there were no witnesses. He knew the
next thing the patrolmen would do is canvas the area and search for people who saw or

heard something. Bradford grabbed his jacket from the coat rack in his office, and headed

for his Crown Victoria in the parking lot. He would drive over to Flatbush and take

charge of the crime scene, and make sure the patrolmen did not spend too much time and

effort looking for witnesses.

Tom Wilkins sat back in his chair behind the desk. “OK, so what have you got for

me?” he asked. Rev. Morton handed over the blue plastic bag. Wilkins took the bag and

placed it in the bottom drawer of the desk, then locked the drawer and put the key in his

shirt pocket. “All that stuff will be destroyed and disposed of tonight,” he said. He waved

his arm and said, “Take a seat, G.W. Relax.” Rev. Morton sat down in one of the two

chairs facing the desk.

“Too bad you made me quit drinking,” Wilkins said. “This would be the perfect

time for a little celebration.”

Rev. Morton, who had not let “demon rum” pass his lips since a few rebellious

teenage episodes many years earlier, frowned and said, “No no, Tom. The Lord does not

want us to dull our senses now. We are engaged in important work, holy work. And we

have to stay sharp.”

“Yeah yeah, I know,” Wilkins said, a bit annoyed that Rev. Morton had taken him

seriously. Alcohol was the source of most of his problems in the “bad ol’ days.” He

wasn’t about to start drinking again now.

While Wilkins was thinking about not drinking, Rev. Morton looked down and

noticed that his hands were still quivering slightly from the rush of adrenaline. On the
other hand, he thought to himself, If there ever was a good time to throw back a shot of


“Hey,” Wilkins said loudly, interrupting Rev. Morton’s thoughts, “How’s the car?

Did you hit anything? Any damage? Any bullet holes in the engine?”

“No, of course not,” Rev. Morton replied. “No problem at all.”

“How about blood?” Wilkins asked. “Any blood on the car?”

“That I don’t know, Tom. It was getting dark and I got out of there in a hurry.”

“OK, that’s all right,” Wilkins said. “When I’m here by myself tonight, I’ll bring

the car inside and wipe it down. I’ll even steam-clean the engine if I have to.”

The phone on Wilkins’ desk buzzed. It was the intercom. Wilkins pressed a

button and said, “Yes?”

A female voice said, “Mr. Wilkins? We’re finished now. We’re heading home.”

“Fine, Doris,” Wilkins said. “Have a good night. See you tomorrow.”

“Good night,” the voice said.

The office staff was done for the day, but since it was Thursday, the showroom

would be opened until 9 p.m., and at least four or five salesmen would be in the building.

Wilkins knew he could not begin to dispose of any evidence until much later in the

evening. He stood up and said, “Hey, G.W., let’s go out to dinner. I’ve got a few hours to

kill, so let’s go out and celebrate with a nice, juicy steak.”

Rev. Morton loved juicy steaks, but at this moment the image of red juice

dripping from a steak brought on a twinge of queasiness in his stomach. “No, Tom.

Thank you,” he said. “I have to get going.” He wanted nothing more than to race home

and take a long hot shower. His underwear was still damp with sweat and he was
beginning to shiver involuntarily. “I’ve got things to do, Tom, and you should go home

and have dinner with your family.”

“OK, fine. Whatever you say,” Wilkins said. Both men stood up to leave. Wilkins

walked over and looked Rev. Morton straight in the eye, from no more than a foot away.

He grabbed both of Morton’s elbows in his hands. “Great job, my friend,” he said. “You

did great, G.W., and I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, Tom. Thanks,” the reverend said sheepishly. “It, it had to be done.” Yes,

it had to be done, Rev. Morton repeated to himself in his head. We are definitely doing

the right thing, he thought. He was convinced they were doing the right thing. They had

to purge the evil from among civilized society. But Rev. Morton was a little

uncomfortable. He had not anticipated that the actual deed would be so emotionally


“Right,” Wilkins said. “It had to be done. And I’m next. The next one is my turn.”

Rev. Morton nodded, wondering if his friend Tom Wilkins also would be

surprised by the stress involved in carrying out the mission.

“So we’re meeting here tomorrow night to begin planning my mission, right?”

Morton nodded.

“Ten o’clock sharp. I’ll see you here, G.W., OK?”

Rev. Morton nodded again. He turned to leave, then paused. He reached into the

pocket of his black overcoat. “Oh, I think you need these,” he said as he held up the keys

to the silver Maxima.

Both men chuckled. Rev. Morton left the office, walked back through the Service

Dept. and went outside. He began to wander through the vast parking area, filled with

cars, and said out loud, “Now where did I park my car?”
Chapter 11

Thursday, November 4th, 6:30 p.m.

Fr. Dan Cavanaugh stood at the sink in the kitchen of the St. Lawrence rectory.

He rinsed off the plate and silverware he had just used to eat dinner. The housekeeper had

prepared a delicious meatloaf with mashed potatoes earlier in the day, and as usual,

although she cooked for only one priest, she made enough for at least four people. Fr.

Dan hated to throw away so many leftovers each day. He hated it even more on the days

when he gave in to temptation and wolfed down the entire meal. The way she cooks, it’s

a miracle I don’t weigh 400 pounds, he thought. He looked over and saw another plate

sitting on the kitchen counter, its contents hidden by aluminum foil. He peeled back the

foil a couple of inches and revealed a small mountain of freshly baked chocolate chip

cookies. “Oh God,” Fr. Dan said out loud. “She’s really trying to kill me.”

Staying in decent physical shape was a constant struggle for the 49-year-old

priest. The basic lifestyle of a parish pastor did not help. There was precious little free

time to exercise on a regular basis. The few times Fr. Dan attempted to start a regular

regimen of jogging or weight lifting or attending a local gym, it lasted no more than a

month or two. The pressing demands of the job—the endless series of evening committee
meetings and especially the midnight phone calls when a parishioner was taken to a

hospital emergency room—seemed to take up all of his spare time. The only days when

his housekeeper did not prepare a lavish feast were the days he was invited to a special

event or a private dinner at a parishioner’s home. Gastronomically speaking, every day

was Thanksgiving Day for Fr. Dan. He figured he was about 20 pounds heavier than he

ought to be. At six-foot-two with broad shoulders, he hid it fairly well. But he knew that

he was at the age when his extra 20 pounds easily could turn into an extra 80 pounds.

Overeating was a socially acceptable vice, but Fr. Dan realized that gluttony was just as

much a sin as lust. The allure of both sins of the flesh seemed to be more powerful than


Fr. Dan dried his hands then looked at his watch. He still had about an hour before

he had to be at a meeting in the church’s social center with the head of the Religious

Education program and members of the Liturgy Committee. It was time to begin making

plans for this year’s Christmas pageant. Fr. Dan already knew this year’s pageant would

be exactly like last year’s—and the year before that and the year before that. Also, he was

certain it would be like next year’s and the year after that, etc. That’s what the

parishioners wanted and expected, which was fine with him. The Christmas pageant

should be a time-honored tradition that evoked warm memories in everyone. What wasn’t

so fine with Fr. Dan was attending a three-hour meeting that should be no more than a

half-hour meeting.

Fr. Dan went into the living room to watch the news on television. Just as he was

about to sit down, the rectory door bell rang. He groaned. The rectory door bell rang

often, and at all hours of the day and night. Whenever the bell rang, Fr. Dan could not
even guess what it might be. Sometimes it was simple and brief: the groundskeeper

saying good night after working late or a parishioner dropping off some paperwork. Other

times it was a little more involved: someone with a personal problem in need of a

sympathetic ear or a stranger down on his luck looking for a handout. Fr. Dan always was

willing to help. After all, his desire to help people was the reason he became a priest.

However, he rarely gave out cash, primarily because he rarely had any on him. Also, in

most cases he knew the cash would be used to buy drugs or booze. He did invite people

inside quite often and fed them, putting the leftover food to good use. On some occasions

the reason the doorbell rang was a full-blown crisis: someone just had a stroke; someone

was just in a car accident; or someone at hospice was not expected to make it through the

night. At these times Fr. Dan dutifully would gather his coat and his “Anointing of the

Sick” kit and leave the rectory, and any plans to get a good night’s sleep would have to

wait for another time.

Before opening the front door, Fr. Dan peered through the peep hole. After a

parish priest was murdered a few years back in a neighboring town by a mentally

disturbed man who had come to the rectory door at night, all pastors had been warned by

the Archdiocese to be much more careful about answering the door. Fr. Dan always

looked through the peep hole before opening the door, not out of concern for his personal

safety, but mostly to see if he recognized the person. If it was a parishioner, he wanted a

few moment to try and remember the correct name, so he didn’t stumble and fumble once

the conversation began. He was always amazed that most parishioners just assumed the

priest knew everyone in the parish by name, and were quick to take offense if the priest

could not remember, or if he even hesitated.

When he looked through the peep hole, Fr. Dan gasped. It was Anna Rivera. Even

through the distorted wide angle, fish-eye lens, she looked gorgeous. Fr. Dan shook his

head and groaned. This exact scenario—Anna coming to the rectory door in the evening

—was the way a very vivid and sensual dream had begun about a week earlier. At about

2 a.m. that night Fr. Dan had bolted upright in bed, drenched in sweat and with his heart

pounding, waking up at the very moment in his dream when he and Anna were about to

consummate their love. He immediately had jumped out of bed and went into the

bathroom to wash his face with ice cold water. He paced around the second floor of the

rectory, replaying the events of the dream in his head. It had been so vivid. He could feel

her smooth skin as she embraced him. He could taste her neck as he kissed it. As he

paced in the dark, there were moments when he was not sure if it had been a dream or

not. It seemed that real. Fr. Dan never fell back to sleep that night. He paced some more,

and he prayed. He read his Bible for a while. He went downstairs and turned on the TV.

He did everything he could to get her out of his mind, but to no avail.

For a moment he thought of not answering the door. She doesn’t know I’m here,

he thought. It will be best—for both of us. He looked through the peep hole again and

noticed that she was crying. Uh oh, something’s wrong, he thought. His romantic

attraction toward her immediately diminished and his pastoral concern for her wellbeing

came to the fore. He opened the door and said, “Anna, what’s the matter?”

She pushed her way into the rectory without being invited, and embraced the

priest in a tight hug, burying her face into his shoulder. Except for the tears, this was

exactly how his dream had begun. Fr. Dan could feel her firm, perfectly-shaped form

pressing against him. His pastoral concern waned as his romantic attraction returned.
Before he could say or do anything, in fact, even before he could quite figure out what

was happening, Anna pulled away from him slightly, looked up and sobbed, “Oh Father,

they killed him! They killed him! My boy, my Luis, is dead!”

Instantly, every lustful molecule in Fr. Dan’s body disappeared. He no longer was

a lonely man fantasizing about falling in love with a gorgeous woman, but had once again

become a dedicated priest focused on serving the needs of others. “What do you mean?”

he replied. “You son? Jitterbug? What happened?”

“Oh Father,” Anna moaned. “They shot him. Right in the head! Just this evening,

on Flatbush Avenue. He’s dead!”

Fr. Dan led her into the living room and sat her down on the couch. He took a seat

next to her. “Who did it?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she wailed. “The druggies he’s been hanging out with, I guess.

Oh Father, I told him over and over he was running with the wrong crowd. He was going

to get in trouble, get arrested or get hurt. But I never thought they would kill him!” She

slumped over, burying her face into his shoulder again, and sobbed uncontrollably. Fr.

Dan held her in his arms. He knew there was nothing he could say. The best thing he

could do is hold her and let her sob.

Chapter 12

Friday, November 5th, 8:35 a.m.

Most of the dozen or so people who regularly attended the 8 a.m. weekday Mass

shuffled out of the church. Fr. Dan figured the youngest of the group was about age 70.

Standing near the altar Fr. Dan looked anxiously toward the entrance of the building. He

was exhausted from staying up most of the night worrying about Anna Rivera. They

hadn’t said much when she was at the rectory. He just held her in his arms for about an

hour. Then he suggested that she return home to be with her daughter and try to get some

sleep. Fr. Dan escorted Anna to her apartment. When he left the rectory, arm in arm with

the beautiful woman, he was seen by a couple of parishioners who wondered why their

pastor had not appeared at the Liturgy Committee meeting. Immediately, the gossip mill

began to buzz.

Fr. Dan didn’t doze off until almost 4:30 a.m. At most he had gotten two hours of

sleep. Now, besides feeling exhausted, he also felt guilty because he had enjoyed Anna’s

embrace so much. She’s grieving and you’re lusting after her, he thought to himself

numerous times while he had been holding her. Oh that’s real nice, you creep, his mind
accused sarcastically, as an internal war raged between Fr. Dan’s fleshly desires and his

spirit. “This is getting too complicated,” he muttered to himself.

As the last few senior citizens exited, Fr. Dan saw a much taller, spry figure enter

the church. Fr. Dan made eye contact and waved the man forward. “Hi Mike,” he said in

a stage whisper when his brother reached the altar, “Thanks for coming on such short


“Sure, Danny,” the detective replied. “What’s up?”

The priest did not answer, but instead escorted Mike into the Sacristy, a small

room behind the Sanctuary. Fr. Dan began to change out of his vestments while Mike

waited impatiently.

Finally, Fr. Dan spoke. “Mike, I know you’re busy. I know you have another

murder investigation to deal with.”

“Yeah,” Mike said. “You heard about it on the news?”

“No. I heard about it from the mother of the murder victim,” Fr. Dan answered.

“They’re parishioners here. So now I do have to do a funeral for a—how did you phrase

it?—a ‘lowlife bum’.”

“Really?” Mike said. “Luis ‘Jitterbug’ Rivera was a member of this parish? He

didn’t seem like a church-going kind of guy.”

“Well, his mom and sister come to Mass a lot. I haven’t seen much of Jitterbug

since his confirmation a couple of years ago, but the times I talked with him he always

struck me as very nice, polite young man.”

“Hmm, that’s not exactly the way the Police Department would describe him.”
“Yeah, I figured that, Mike,” Fr. Dan said. “I mean, he must’ve been involved in

some pretty nasty stuff. His mother told me he hung out with druggies.”

“Well, his mother’s partially right,” the cop said, trying to be diplomatic. “He did

hang out with druggies—but mostly so he could continue to sell drugs to them.”

Fr. Dan paused in the middle of putting on his jacket. “Really?” he said with a

raised eyebrow. “Jitterbug was a drug dealer?”

Mike nodded. Fr. Dan finished putting on his jacket, and the cop added, “Um,

apparently he was a pretty nice guy, like you said. But he, uh, he must’ve just been one of

those guys who decided that he’s gonna define what’s right and what’s wrong for

himself. You know, the worst sin: deciding to play God.”

Fr. Dan paused again, then broke out in a smile. “Hey, have you actually been

listening to my homilies?” he asked with mock surprise.

“Sure, whataya think?” Mike replied defensively. “I go to Mass…sometimes. I

pay attention…sometimes. I’ve heard you preach about people who decide to play God.

People who define right and wrong, good and evil, for themselves, based on whatever is

best for them. Hell, Danny, I see that all the time in my line of work. You wouldn’t

believe how many people—right after we arrest them, of course—who sincerely say, ‘I

thought I was doing the right thing.’”

“Well, I’m impressed, little bro’. I’m glad you pay attention…sometimes.”

“Yeah, I hate to admit it,” Mike said with a smile, “because you’re such a

pompous know-it-all!—but sometimes you do help me keep my head screwed on right.

You know, sometimes we cops get so caught up in the craziness of trying to maintain law

and order, we actually lose sight of what’s right and wrong ourselves. I’ve seen it happen
on the force. It’s tempting to rationalize that if something works best for us, it must be

right. So, big bro’, I hate to say it, but you do help me…sometimes!”

The two brothers chuckled. “Well, now I need your help. I’ve got to do a funeral

Mass for a murdered drug dealer, and somehow I’ve got to provide some comfort for his

grieving loved ones. I can’t screw this one up. I’ve got to help them, but I can’t just B.S.

it, either. So, I want to show you my sermon notes and have you tell me if I’m

exaggerating too much or ignoring important facts.”

Sure, I guess I can do that,” Mike replied. “I mean, I never met the guy, but we

have a pretty large file on him. I’ll just tell you the truth. If you say he was a saint, I’ll

have to tell you no. If you say he was a nice guy who got caught up with the wrong

crowd, I’ll tell you, yeah, probably. If you say he’s now in Heaven, well…that’s your

department. I have no clue about that stuff.”

Suddenly feeling uncomfortable, Mike changed the subject and said, “You think

you need help? I’m the one who needs help. We’ve got two execution-style murders in

less than two weeks! This town is turning into Hartford or Bridgeport, for God’s sake!”

“Yeah, that is unbelievable,” the priest said. “What’s going on? Is it a drug war,

or some kind of gang violence thing?”

“No, that’s what’s weird, Danny,” the cop said as he rubbed his chin. “Neither of

the murders fit the usual profile. The first guy, even though he was a boozer and had

some drugs on him, he had no connections with any criminal activity in the area. And the

second guy, Jitterbug, nobody knows this, Dan, but we found over a thousand dollars in

cash stuffed into his pockets. If it was a drug deal gone bad, I can’t believe whoever shot

him didn’t check his pockets and grab the money. And it was point-blank in the back of
the head, too, not a drive-by spray of bullets. There was no struggle. Whoever did it took

him completely by surprise. It just doesn’t add up.”

“C’mon, let’s go over to the rectory and have some coffee,” Fr Dan said. The

brothers walked out a side door of the church. Fr. Dan turned toward Mike and said, “I’m

sorry, but I don’t really understand how you guys investigate these kind of things and

draw your conclusions.”

“Yeah, that’s another thing,” Mike said sternly. “My psycho boss won’t even let

us investigate properly. He’s making us treat these murders like a couple of jay-walking


“Who’s that? Captain…um, what’s-his-name?”

“Captain Bradford. Ray Bradford. You’ve heard me complain about him before.

A real law-and-order freak. Stickler for details. Now, all of a sudden, he won’t let us

work a minute of overtime to investigate the biggest crimes this town has seen in the last

50 years? Go figure.”

They reached the main sidewalk and turned right toward the rectory, which was

about 100 feet down the street. They saw a women dressed in black hurry up the rectory

steps and ring the front door bell.

“Hey, look’s like you have company,” Mike said. “And looks like pretty nice

company, too,” he added suggestively.

“What’s that suppose to mean?” Fr. Dan asked, his eyes fixed on Anna Rivera.

“Nothing, bro’, nothing,” Mike replied, feigning innocence. “I just figure your

typical rectory visitor doesn’t often look like a Victoria’s Secret model.”

“Knock it off, dammit!” the priest muttered in anger.

“Sorry,” Mike said. “Guess I touched a nerve, huh? What’s the matter, Danny?”

Fr. Dan stopped walking and grabbed Mike by the elbow. They were about 25

feet from the rectory steps. Anna turned and saw the two men. She smiled and waved. Fr.

Dan forced a smile and waved back.

“Look, Mike,” he said out of the side of his mouth while still smiling at Anna.

“That’s Jitterbug’s mom. Please do me a big favor. Please pray for me. Pray that I’ll be

strong. I’m awfully weak right now. I need a lot of help. Pray that I don’t decide to play


“Yeah, sure, Danny,” Mike said, completely confused. “Whatever you say.”

“OK, take care. I’ll see you later, you knucklehead,” Fr. Dan said. He shook

Mike’s hand then walked to the rectory steps. Mike watched him for a moment, then

headed back toward the church parking lot. Weak? Play God? the cop thought to himself,

What did he mean by that? A number of possibilities popped into his head, the most

prominent of which included the gorgeous woman on the rectory steps.

Chapter 13

Friday, November 5th, 10:20 a.m.

Dave “Pit Bull” Peterson and Tom Wilkins sipped coffee in Peterson’s office in

the studio complex of WCTR radio. Wilkins usually stopped by the radio offices about

once every three weeks to meet with Pit Bull after his show to plan new advertising

campaigns for the car dealership. Although the two men were meeting ostensibly to

discuss how many commercial spots to run per hour and when Pit Bull would do another

Saturday morning live broadcast from the Wilkins Ford-Nissan facility, the only thing

they wanted to discuss was the previous day’s successful “mission.” However, the offices

at WCTR were rather cramped, and by mid-morning the full compliment of employees—

receptionists, studio engineers, salespersons, and on-air personalities—were busily

scurrying to and fro, which caused Dave and Tom to speak in whispered tones to each


“Did you hear the callers today?” Pit Bull asked.

“Some of them,” Wilkins replied cautiously, not wanted to admit that he usually

listened to the broadcast only to make sure his commercials aired at the proper time. Tom

considered Pit Bull a very close friend. He agreed with virtually everything Pit Bull said
on the air. However, he was not fond of Pit Bull’s over-the-top, inflammatory style. It

was a sore subject the two men years ago had agreed to disagree about, and not discuss

directly anymore.

“Did you hear Vinny from Meriden, just before 8 o’clock?”

“Um, no. I must’ve been in the shower then,” Wilkins said. “What did he say?”

“Well, at first he made me a little nervous,” Pit Bull began with a chuckle. “He

said, ‘Maybe the ghost of Charles Bronson is in West Hartford!’”

Tom stared at Pit Bull with a puzzled expression. “Charles Bronson? I, uh, I don’t

get it.”

“Oh, Tom,” Pit Bull said with surprise. “Charles Bronson. You know, the popular

‘Death Wish’ movies. The vigilante movies. Don’t you remember?”

“Yeah, that kind of rings a bell,” Tom said unconvincingly.

“Well anyway, after Vinny said that, every caller for the rest of the show wanted

to talk about whether a vigilante, an ‘avenging angel,’ as one caller put it, might be at

work cleaning up the streets.”

“That’s not good,” Tom said. “That’s not good at all! Pit Bull, don’t you

remember our plan? We want to clean up the streets, yes, but we want it to look like the

criminals are shooting each other. We don’t want people to think it’s vigilantes. If that’s

who the cops start looking for, that could lead them to…to us.”

“No, don’t worry, Tom,” Pit Bull said. “I’ve been thinking a lot about that. Even

if some people suspect a vigilante, they’ll never trace it back to us.” Peterson paused and

looked around, making sure he had not raised his voice too loudly for the thin-walled

office. “Um, you see,” he continued, noticeably quieter, “we have Captain Bradford on
our side. He’ll steer the investigation far away from us. He’s the key, Tom. We’ve got an

insider on our team. Even if they think it might be a vigilante, they’ll be looking for

someone else, I don’t know who, maybe a younger, hot-headed gun nut, or something.

They won’t be looking for respectable, middle-age businessmen. That’s what’s so

brilliant about our plan—no one will ever suspect us.”

“I don’t know, Pit Bull. That doesn’t reassure me.” Wilkins stood up and paced in

the office. “We said from the beginning that we wanted this to look like thugs shooting

thugs. That was the plan. If they think it’s a vigilante, they’ll stop investigating the thugs

and start investigating law-abiding citizens. And that’s simply not good for us.”

“Aw Tom, you’re just a little nervous because it’s your turn next. You want to be

sure everything will go according to plan—and it will! Trust me, our plan is perfect. You

know how I know that? Ask me how I know that.”

Tom rolled his eyes. “OK, how do you know that?”

“Two things,” Pit Bull said excitedly. “First, the Rev’s mission went off without a

hitch yesterday. I mean perfect. With Captain Ray’s assistance, we are planning these

missions perfectly. They’re flawless.”

“You said two things, didn’t you?” Wilkins asked.

“Yeah, yeah. The other thing, Tom, is something I realized during the show today.

Everybody was excited about the idea of a vigilante. Do you know what that means?”

Without waiting for an answer, Pit Bull continued, “It means we are doing the right


“I already know that,” Wilkins said sternly.

“No no, you don’t understand,” Pit Bull said. “We are doing…the…right…thing.

After only two missions, the good and decent citizens of our state instantly took notice.

They instantly sensed that something exciting and thrilling is taking place: a couple of

scumbags are off the streets! I know these people, Tom. I trusts my listeners. Through

them I can take the pulse of the entire state. Just think how excited they’ll be when you

do your mission next week, then I do mine the week after that. Then we start over again,

the captain, then the Rev, then you, then me, and on and on until every last creep is either

dead or fled!”

Wilkins shook his head and laughed. “You’re starting to sound like Rev. Morton.

What are you turning into, a radio preacher?”

“Hey, I’ve been preaching on the radio for decades. It’s not a religious thing, but it’s still

preaching. Preaching the gospel of law and order, my friend!”

“Well, what we need right now, Pit Bull, is a level head. Yes, we’re doing the

right thing, and yes, Captain Ray is our inside guy who can steer the investigation away

from us. But we cannot afford to let our emotions run wild. We have to be ultra cool and

calm and level-headed. If we get too giddy, that’s when we’ll screw up. And that’s when

we’ll get caught. Understand?”

“Yeah, I understand,” Pit Bull replied. “But you have to admit, this whole thing is

so, so…invigorating.”

“David,” Wilkins said slowly, as he sat back down in his chair, “do me a favor.

Imagine you’re saying everything you just said to me, but you’re saying it to Captain

Ray. How do you think he would react?”

Pit Bull laughed. “Well, first thing, I’d never say any of this to him. He’d

probably shoot me on the spot. I’m only telling you because we’ve known each other for

years, and you understand me.”

“Yeah, that’s right, I do understand you,” Wilkins said, sitting up straight in the

chair and staring directly at Pit Bull. “I understand that you can get very excited at times,

and we all have to be very careful not to get too excited. We have to remember that we

are conducting military-style missions. We have to be like robots. No emotions. Do you

understand that, Pit Bull?”

“I’m with you, Tom. I get it. I’m not letting my emotions run wild. I’m just…I’m

just pumped, man! I’m just fired up because instead of yapping about right and wrong all

day long, we’re finally doing something about it.”

“Yes, we are, my friend,” Wilkins said with a smile. “We sure are. But just don’t

go shooting your mouth off like this to the captain, OK?”

Pit Bull laughed again. “No chance of that! I don’t want to be his next target.”

“So anyway,” Wilkins said, “I’m running late. Gotta get back to my office. Let’s

look at this new proposal you sent me. What the hell’s up with this? I don’t want to spend

money on commercials at 5:30 a.m. Nobody’s awake at that hour.”

“Well, I am. At that hour I’ve been awake for a long time. You know, 3 a.m.

comes really early!”

“Stop saying that, please! No, I want to focus more on the 8 o’clock hour.”

“OK, but those rates are higher, Tom.”

The two men continued to talk business, but each had a difficult time

concentrating on advertising rates, drive-time demographics, and other mundane details.

One man couldn’t stop thinking about the exciting and invigorating secret plan of which

he was a part. The other man couldn’t stop thinking that his excitable friend was a little

too focused on Charles Bronson movies rather than the very real and dangerous path they

were on.
Chapter 14

Tuesday, November 9th, 10:05 a.m.

St. Lawrence church was filled to overflowing for Luis “Jitterbug” Rivera’s

funeral. The old, staid parish had never seen quite a mix of humanity at one time. Anna

and her daughter Maria sat in the front pew, surrounded by relatives. About a dozen

people from Anna’s deceased husband’s side of the family had flown in from Puerto Rico

for the funeral to say good-bye to their nephew, cousin, and grandson. A couple of car-

loads of loved ones from Anna’s side of the family drove to West Hartford from the

Albany area.

Former members of the Conard High football and basketball teams of a few years

earlier were congregated in one area toward the back of the church, looking somewhat

like a gathering of guys from a jock fraternity. Most of these young men were enrolled at

various colleges now and hadn’t seen much of their old friend and popular teammate in

recent months. But all were greatly saddened at his murder and made a point of returning

for the funeral. The rest of the building was filled with a diverse assortment of people, of

all colors and styles and languages and fashions. It’s safe to say the old church building

had never hosted a greater collection of tattoos and body piercing at one time.
Fr. Dan looked out at the vast throng as the Mass began and suspected that many

of the people in attendance had not only been Jitterbug’s friends, but also his customers.

He assumed they rarely set foot in churches, except possibly for the funerals of fellow

drug abusers. Fr. Dan was torn between a desire to read them the riot act—rail against the

evils of drugs and demand that they get their acts together—and a desire to show

compassion and embrace them in unconditional love. What would Jesus do? Fr. Dan

thought. When the Prince of Peace spent time with prostitutes and sinners, gluttons and

drunkards, did He read them the riot act? No. And why not? Was it because He didn’t

care about right and wrong? Was it because He was complacent regarding good and

evil? Of course not. It was because He knew they had been hearing the riot act most of

their lives, and if yet another religious preacher condemned them for their behavior,

they’d surely move even further away from God. They needed to hear about God’s love

and forgiveness first before hearing about God’s righteousness and justice.

A few moments later, when everyone sat down to listen to the first Scripture

reading, Fr. Dan continued the little dialog he had begun with himself by thinking, Who

were the people that Jesus did read the riot act to? Hypocritical religious professionals,

that’s who. He looked down at his shoes and felt his face begin to flush. And I bet Jesus

had some choice words for any Pharisee who preached purity but all-the-while was

lusting after a good-looking widow in his congregation.

Fr. Dan had not seen much of Anna over the weekend, except briefly at the

Sunday evening wake. She had been quite busy receiving the many out-of-town guests,

accepting their condolences and catching up on other family news, all-the-while helping

them find hotel accommodations and making sure they were well-fed and comfortable. It
wasn’t until just before the funeral Mass that Fr. Dan had a chance to speak with Anna.

He was worried about her. She was obviously becoming exhausted and seemed especially

frail. He was genuinely concerned that she might faint at some point during this day. He

also was genuinely concerned that in the coming days or weeks, when all the friends and

relatives returned to their respective hometowns, Anna would be extremely lonely and

sad, and come to the rectory for comfort. Fr. Dan knew that scenario could only lead to


The previous day, on Monday afternoon, Fr. Dan had met with his brother Mike

to review the sermon notes. Fr. Dan welcomed the policeman’s point of view on how

exactly to refer to Jitterbug’s life. He did not want to go to either extreme—describe

Jitterbug as an innocent victim who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or declare

that he got was he deserved because of his lawless lifestyle. He wanted the homily to be

honest and yet convey comfort and hope to the grieving loved ones, especially Anna.

Fr. Dan has another reason for meeting with his brother. He had been disturbed

during their conversation on Friday when Mike mentioned Heaven and then quickly said,

“I have no clue about that stuff.”

The more he had thought about that comment afterward, the angrier Fr. Dan had

become. No clue about Heaven?! he thought incredulously, You’re my damn brother.

You’ve been listening to my sermons for years. That’s my job, for crying out loud! To

make sure everyone who hears me preach knows how to get to Heaven. If my own

brother is clueless about the most important question facing mankind, then I’m a total

failure as a priest.
Fr. Dan’s concern about his physical attraction to Anna was already making him

question his effectiveness as a priest. Now with his own brother expressing ignorance

about eternal salvation, his self-esteem was really taking a nosedive. All along he had

planned to include a clear presentation of the basic Gospel message in his funeral homily:

Jesus loves each and every one of us so much that He willingly gave up His life on the

Cross to pay the price for our sins, and if we put our faith in Him we can receive the gift

of eternal life in Heaven.

Fr. Dan knew that many people in attendance at funeral Masses never went to

church otherwise. He figured funeral homilies were his best and only chance to reach

some lost and hurting souls. Obviously during a Catholic Mass there would not be an

“altar call,” like at one of those televised Billy Graham crusades or, for an example closer

to home, the services conducted by Rev. Morton at the Faith Cathedral. “Different

traditions seeking the same goal,” Fr. Dan often said when confronted by zealous

Evangelicals who questioned the validity of Catholicism. But Fr. Dan did not pull any

punches. He wanted to make sure everyone heard the Gospel message.

Now, to his chagrin, Fr. Dan had to admit that his own brother might be numbered

among the lost and hurting, those people who did not know the Gospel. While reviewing

his sermon notes with Mike, Fr. Dan made sure he covered the entire presentation,

including faith in Christ, forgiveness of sins, eternal life in Heaven, and a call to

repentance; and not just the parts where he tactfully dealt with Jitterbug’s lawless

lifestyle. He insisted that his brother hear every word, even if under the guise of

reviewing the notes.

During their meeting on Monday, Fr. Dan was surprised when Mike mentioned

that rumors were swirling around town that Jitterbug’s murder might have been the work

of a vigilante. Although Mike had concerns that the two recent murders did not fit the

usual profile, he dismissed the vigilante talk as nonsense. “No. It’s a drug deal gone bad.

Definitely,” he had declared.

As the funeral Mass finally came to a close, Fr. Dan realize he too was exhausted.

In his estimation, the homily went fairly well. He could see in the eyes of many people,

especially Anna, that his words were comforting and hopeful. He wasn’t quite as sure if

the Gospel portion of his sermon, the call to faith and repentance, was as well-received.

When he looked into the eyes of some of the more heavily tattooed and pierced young

people, he saw either confusion or simply a blank, hollow stare. It’s almost as if they are

from a different planet, he thought. These kids are in such emotional pain, it’s not that

they don’t agree with the Gospel, it’s that they can’t even comprehend there could be a

God who loves them unconditionally. The only love most of them know comes with

numerous strings attached. “Do this for me and I’ll love you. Don’t do it, and I’ll dump

you.” No wonder they take drugs to escape the pain.

Anna did not faint. But when the funeral parlor employees wheeled the casket

down the aisle toward the front entrance of the church where the hearse waited, with

Anna and her relatives solemnly walking behind, her knees buckled and she had to be

propped up momentarily by her daughter on one arm and an uncle on the other. It was a

painfully sad scene. Fr. Dan looked on, knowing that he still had to perform a service at

the cemetery and then return to the church’s social hall for a reception afterward, and he

thought that his knees also might buckle before it was all over.
Chapter 15

Tuesday, November 9th, 1:45 p.m.

About 50 people mingled in the social hall, a drab cinderblock structure attached

to the side of St. Lawrence church. About a third of the ceiling lights did not work,

making the already gloomy mood even more so. At one end of the large, open room,

trays of assorted sandwiches, pastries, and cookies sat on a rectangular table. Nearby, a

round table was covered with soda bottles, wine, and six packs of beer. Less than half of

the people who attended the Mass had gone to the cemetery; and less than half of those

returned to the social hall for the reception. Small groups of people congregated

throughout the room. To the right side of the food table was a predominantly Spanish-

speaking group. An English-speaking group was across the room near the wall. In the far

corner was a gathering of young adults and teenagers. Language and race did not separate

this mixed group, as their common status as societal outcasts produced a bond more

powerful than any ethnic differences. Some members of this group periodically went

outside for five or ten minutes at a time, and then returned noticeably glassy-eyed.

Anna and Maria methodically worked their way around the room, thanking each

person for his or her show of support. Fr. Dan stood alone near the kitchen, keeping an
eye on the refreshment tables in case more napkins or plastic cups were needed. He was

more than willing to talk with anyone who needed grief counseling, or who simply

wanted to comment on topics such as life or death or faith. But so far, no one seemed

interested in engaging the priest in conversation, save for a nod and a quick, “Hi Father,”

or, “Gracias, Padre.”

Fr. Dan had told Anna the mourners could use the hall as long as needed, but it

seemed likely the somber gathering would dissipate within an hour. Many of the people

who returned from the cemetery had already grabbed a sandwich and a drink, offered

their condolences to Anna, and left after no more than ten minutes.

As the number of people in the room dwindled, Fr. Dan went back into the

kitchen area to check on the supply of cups, napkins, and plastic spoons. From behind a

wide serving counter, he still could see out into the large room. The kitchen cupboards

were very bare, a result of the parish’s poor financial situation. He located a small bag of

plastic cups along with about 20 Styrofoam coffee cups, which he calculated would be

enough for this day. He made a mental note to order more kitchen supplies before the

next social event—assuming there were funds in the parish checking account to do so.

Closing a cupboard door, Fr. Dan was surprised to hear Anna’s voice in the

kitchen behind him. He turned and saw her standing about ten feet away with her arm

around the shoulder of boy who looked to be about 12 years old.

“Father Dan, do you have a moment?” she asked.

“Sure, Anna. What’s up?” he replied.

Anna walked toward the priest and said, “Father, this is Jamal.”
“Hi, Jamal,” Fr. Dan said with a smile, extending his right hand. The boy looked

at Anna nervously, then reluctantly reached out and shook hands with the large man

dressed in black.

“Father Dan,” Anna said, “Jamal saw something the other day, something that

might be very important, but he is afraid to talk to the police about it. I promised him that

he could talk to you and that you would never tell the police who told you this

information. Isn’t that right, Father?”

Fr. Dan looked at Anna with a puzzled expression. He didn’t say anything.

Anna’s head nodded every so slightly and her eyes pleaded with the priest to agree. He

sensed her concern and said, “Oh, yeah, sure. I won’t tell anybody, Jamal.”

“Go ahead, tell him what you saw,” Anna said gently to the frightened boy. “Just

tell him what you told me.”

Jamal cleared his throat and said in a quiet voice, “Well, I was walking home. It

was getting dark, and I didn’t see nobody else on the street. Then I came near this car that

had the, um, the motor door up.”

“The hood,” Anna said. The boy paused. She rubbed his shoulder and said, “Go


Jamal took a deep breath and said, “So, um, I’m walking, and all of a sudden I

hears a gun shot. I didn’t know where it come from, but it sounded real close. So I, I duck

down and I hide behind the car, a silver car, in case, you know, in case there’s any more


“Then what happened?” Anna asked. Fr. Dan looked on, fascinated by the boy’s

“Then I can tell somebody gets in the car. I hear the door slam shut. Then the car

starts up. I can feel the pipe thing blow smoke near me. Then, then the car starts backing

up—right at me! It almost runs me over!” Jamal raised his voice above a whisper for the

first time.

“I had to jump out of the way onto the sidewalk, or else I woulda got run over!

Then, then the car drives away real fast. And I, I look over, and that’s when I seen

Jitterbug. I mean, I didn’t know it was Jitterbug then. I just seen a guy laying there with

lots of blood near his head. He was wearing a red hat. So then I just start running, and I

didn’t stop till I got home.”

Fr. Dan looked at Anna and silently mouthed the word, “Wow.” His own brother,

the police detective, had told him just yesterday that there had been no witnesses to

Jitterbug’s murder. As far as the police knew, no one in the neighborhood had seen a

thing. But here was a youngster who had been there, probably ten feet away, when the

shooting happened.

Anna smiled at Jamal and said, “Thank you, that was very good. Now, Jamal, tell

Father Dan the other thing you told me. C’mon, you can tell him.”

“Well, um, when I was hiding behind the car, I saw the license plate.”

“You know the plate number?!” Fr. Dan blurted out. Jamal recoiled in fear. Anna

quickly put both of her arms around the boy.

“Now now, that’s all right, that’s all right, Jamal. It’s OK,” she said in a soothing

voice while glaring at Fr. Dan. “It’s OK,” she continued, “Father is not going to tell your

name to anyone, are you?”

“No, no, Jamal. It’ll be our secret.”

“Please tell Father what you saw, Jamal,” Anna said sweetly but firmly.

“Um, OK,” the boy said. “It was white, the plate was white, with, um, red

numbers. And the numbers was, ‘3-1-3-5-7.’”

Fr. Dan quietly asked, “Are you sure?”

Jamal looked a bit indignant. “Yeah, I’m sure. I gets all A’s in math class. I

knows my numbers.”

“OK, good,” Fr. Dan replied. “I can tell you’re very smart. Um, I’m just going to

write that down, OK? Because, um, I’m not so good with numbers, Jamal, and I’ll


He reached into his black jacket and pulled out a pen. Then he reached over and

grabbed a clean napkin from a cupboard shelf. “OK, you said, ‘3-1…’ And what were the

other numbers?”

“You’re not gonna tell nobody I told you, right?”

“That’s right, Jamal. I’m not going to tell anyone that you told me.”

“‘3-5-7’ Jamal said. “The last three numbers was ‘3-5-7’ on the drug dealer

license plate.”

Anna bent over and gave Jamal a big hug. “Thank you so much,” she said. “Why

don’t you go get some cookies over on the table?”

“Um, wait, Jamal,” Fr. Dan said, before the boy could run back to the snack table.

“Why do you say it was a drug dealer license plate?”

“Cuz the plate said ‘dealer,’” he replied.

“Wait, wait,” Fr. Dan said rubbing his forehead. “You mean the word ‘dealer’

was right on the license plate?”

“Yeah, on the bottom. The top said ‘Connecticut.’”

Fr. Dan and Anna looked at each other. Anna then turned to Jamal and said, “You

didn’t tell me that before.”

The youth shrugged and said, “I guess I forgot. Can I go now?”

“Yes, of course,” Anna said, patting him on the shoulder. “Thank you so much.”

Visibly relieved the ordeal was over, Jamal turned and ran out of the kitchen.

“Wow,” Fr. Dan said, this time out loud. “That’s amazing. I can’t believe he was

right there.”

“Father,” Anna said, “You must give this information to your brother, the


“You bet I will,” he replied.

“But Father,” she quickly added in a pleading tone, “Please, you must not tell him

Jamal’s name. You promised. Please, will you do that for me?”

He looked at her and thought to himself, I’d do anything for you, Anna. The

words he actually said were, “Of course. I promised the kid. I’ll tell my brother it’s a

confidentiality of the confessional situation, or something.”

She smiled, then hugged him tightly and said, “Thank you, Father Dan. I don’t

know what I would do without you.”

The priest could feel a warm glow surge through his body. I DO know what I

would do WITH you, he thought, and I really shouldn’t even be thinking about it. Then he

looked out over the counter at the remaining few people in the large room and noticed

that some of them were staring at him and Anna. He felt his face turn bright red and he
clumsily pushed Anna away. “Um, OK, right,” he said nervously. “You, uh, you should

say goodbye to the guests. Some of them are, um, are leaving.”

Fr. Dan quickly led Anna through the kitchen doorway and back into the large

room. Then he mumbled, “Excuse me,” and hurried to the other side of the room, as far

from her as possible. During his brief lust-turned-to-panic moment, he had forgotten all

about Jamal’s information. When he regained his senses, he left the social hall and

walked quickly toward the rectory to make a phone call to his brother.
Chapter 16

Thursday, November 11th, 10:10 a.m.

The doorbell rang at the St. Lawrence rectory. Fr. Dan sat at the kitchen table

reviewing a pile of paperwork recently sent over from the Archdiocese. He cringed when

he heard the bell. Oh, I hope it’s not her, he immediately thought to himself.

The priest cautiously approached the front door and peered through the peephole.

A huge, distorted eyeball peered back at him from outside. Fr. Dan yanked the door open

and exclaimed, “You knucklehead! Why do you always do that?!”

“Because I know you always look to see who’s standing here,” his brother Mike

replied with a laugh. The cop entered the rectory and followed his older brother into the


“Want some coffee?” Fr. Dan asked, even though he was already in the process of

pouring a cup for his brother.

“Is the pope Catholic?” Mike answered. “Of course I want some coffee. I’m a

cop, don’t forget.”

“Milk’s in the fridge,” Fr. Dan said as he handed over the steaming mug. “So,

Mike, what’s up? Find out anything about the license plate?”
“Yeah, kind of interesting, Danny.” The cop sat down at the kitchen table and carefully

pushed some papers aside to make room for his coffee mug. “You’re as messy as I am,”

he said. “You should see my cubicle at headquarters. I’ve stopped trying to keep it neat.

It’s a losing battle. I just bring in a snow shovel once a week to move the piles of paper


“The age of computers,” the priest said with a smile. “We were suppose to have

paperless offices by now. But instead we just print out twenty copies of everything. So

Mike,” he said, shifting to a more serious tone, “What did you find out?”

“Well, at first I found nothing on the plate. Speaking of computers, the main

database at Motor Vehicle returned nothing. No match. So I figured your, uh, your

‘source,’ had given you some bum information. By the way, you’re not gonna tell me

who your source is, are you?”

Fr. Dan shook his head. “Can’t do it, bro. The kid is—I mean, the ‘source’ is

scared to death. I had to promise.”

“So it’s a kid, huh?” Mike said.

“Dammit, Mike, why are you grilling me?”

“Danny, come on, I’m not grilling you. I didn’t even ask you to tell me. I just

wanted to confirm what you said the other day, that you’re not going to tell me.”

“Yeah, I can’t, Mike. I can’t.”

“OK, fine,” the cop said. “So, I have a buddy over at Motor Vehicle. And I asked

him to do me a favor and look through his old paper archives. He wasn’t really thrilled
about that, I can tell you. I had to promise him a case of beer. Hey, I should send the bill

to your church.”

“Very funny,” Fr. Dan said with a smirk.

“Well, he finally called me back this morning. He actually dug out the old record.

That dealer plate was issued in the 1960s, but in 1985 it expired and was never renewed.

The plate was originally issued to Wilkins Ford.”

“The car dealer? Right here in town?” the priest asked.

“Right. I’m not sure why they never renewed it. Dealer plates are golden, you

know? When you have one of those on a car it’s like having diplomatic immunity. The

cops assume the car is owned by a dealership with a big group insurance policy, so unless

the driver is blatantly breaking traffic laws, we usually leave them alone. The only

reasons I can think of why one of those plates would not be renewed is if the dealer went

out of business—obviously not the case here—or if the plate was lost or stolen.”

“Hmm, that’s interesting, Mike. What do you think?”

“Realistically, I think it’s just an old lost plate. Someone found it or stole it years

ago and realized it’s the perfect thing to slap on the back of your car if you’re gonna

commit a crime.”

“Well, you’re going to check it out, aren’t you?” Fr. Dan asked. “I mean, what did

the other guys at headquarters say? It’s worth pursuing, right?”

“I didn’t tell anybody,” the cop replied. “And I’m not going to.”

“What?” Fr. Dan said incredulously. “What are you talking about? This is a really

important lead. Even I know that!”

“Hold on, Dan. Hold on,” Mike said, raising both palms toward his brother. “Of

course it’s important. I realize that. It’s definitely worth checking out. The problem is, if I

tell anybody, specifically the guy I’m suppose to tell, my boss, I already know what he’ll


“What will he say?”

“He’ll say, ‘Meaningless. Dead end. Make a note in the file and forget about it.’”

“Really? Why?”

“I truly do not know, Danny. It’s the weirdest thing. He is allocating more

department resources trying to track down somebody who stole a bicycle off a porch than

for these two murders. It makes no sense.”

“What about the state police?” the priest asked. “Aren’t they doing most of the

murder investigation anyway.”

“Yes and no,” Mike answered. “They’re certainly doing a lot. They have all the

fancy, expensive tools, like the mobile crime lab and the DNA testing and all that stuff.

But the local PD still does most of the grunt work, knocking on doors, following leads,

asking questions. And besides, if I gave this information directly to the state police—

meaning I’d be going over the head of my boss, Captain Psycho—within an hour I’d be a

Meter Maid and my career would be over.”

“So what are you going to do?” Fr. Dan asked.

“I’m gonna look into it myself, off the record. Maybe sniff around that car

dealer’s place and see if anybody remembers anything.”

“When are you going to do that?”

“In my spare time, Danny.”

“Spare time?” the priest laughed. “You’re just like me! You have no spare time.”

“Yeah, I know,” Mike said. “Maybe I’ll give up sleeping this week. That’ll free

up some extra hours.”

Fr. Dan nodded his head and smiled. “You get used to it after a while,” he said. “I

gave up sleeping when I was assigned to this parish. On the plus side, though, it’s kind of

interesting to go through life as a zombie.”

“Coffee, me lad!” the cop declared. He stood up and went to pour himself another

cup. “A steady supply of coffee be the only thing standin’ between civilized society and

complete lawlessness!” Mike was acting silly, affecting a rather bad brogue, reminiscent

of a 1930s cops and robbers movie. “If there be no coffee, why, we would never solve a

single case. And don’t forgit the occasional nip of Irish coffee,” he added with a leer.

“OK, OK, give me a break,” Fr. Dan said as he stood up from the table. “It’s too

early for Pat O’Brien impersonations. So you’re going to check it out?”

“Yeah. No problem, Dan,” the cop said in his own voice. “This, uh, this case

really means a lot to you, huh?”

Fr. Dan nodded. Mike continued cautiously, “Um, it’s none of my business, I

know, but, uh, I didn’t really understand what you were talking about the other day, you

know, when we saw Jitterbug’s mom.”

Fr. Dan shrugged. After a few moments he said, “Nah, don’t worry about. It’s

something I have to deal with.”

“You sure? Are you OK?” Mike asked. “Is there something you want to talk


The priest laughed out loud. “Now that’s the question I usually ask.”
“Well, I worry about you sometimes, Danny. I just want to make sure

everything’s OK. You know, you’re a healthy, normal guy, and she’s a really healthy gal,


“Oh yeah, she’s really healthy all right. You should feel how hard she can hug the

stuffing out of you.”

“Excuse me?” Mike said with surprise.

“Well, I guess that’s kind of the problem, Mike. She’s in the middle of a crisis,

right? So she goes to her parish priest for comfort, let’s say a shoulder to cry on and

maybe some firm, prolonged hugs. And her priest,” Fr. Dan continued, shifting to the

third-person, “who apparently and maybe unfortunately is still a somewhat healthy guy…

Well, let’s just say this parish priest kind of enjoys the hugs…a lot. More than a lot. And

let’s just say his imagination starts to run a little wild…” Fr. Dan’s voice trailed off. He

gazed out the kitchen window.

The room was silent for a few minutes. Finally Mike said, “Danny, I don’t know

what to say. You’re the strongest guy I’ve ever known. I mean, strong as in strength of

character. While I’m one of the weakest guys I know. If anyone can deal with certain

situations, with temptations, it’s you. And since my marriage is wrecked and I’m

currently shacking up with a very lovely, uh, high-maintenance airhead, it’s not like I’m

exactly the best guy in the world to be giving out advice about women, you know?

Especially to priests!”

Fr. Dan laughed. “Mike, you don’t have to say a thing. There is no specific advice

needed here. I’m just glad I could tell you what’s on my mind, get it off my chest. It’ll

work out, I’m sure.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Mike said. “Hey, look at the time. I’ve got to get going,

OK? I’ll see you soon.”

“Right,” Fr. Dan answered. The two brothers hugged. As they released their grasp

of each other, Mike whispered, “So be honest, who’s the better hugger, me or her?”

“Get out of here, you knucklehead!” Fr. Dan yelled while offering a broad smile.

Mike grabbed his jacket and walked toward the front door. He turned back and waved to

his brother, who stood in the kitchen watching him leave. When the front door closed, Fr.

Dan said out loud, to no one in particular, “Definitely her.”