Chapter Twenty-Two: Investigations
"You are absolutely certain, then? The coroner's report shows no drugs, no hallucinogens, no substances of any kind?"
"No, sir. Father Bernard's body showed no evidence of any substance that might have caused hallucinations or insanity. There are no drug traces or other physiological evidence pointing to a trigger for his breakdown."
"Yet he virtually tore himself to pieces. His face was a mask of utter terror. This is not the act of a rational man, obviously. The simple conclusion must be that something, or someone, drove him to madness."
The elderly man steepled his fingers and rested his extended thumbs against the bridge of his prominent, hawk-like nose. His thick gray brows wrinkled while he considered the possibilities. Something niggled at the back of his mind. His memory went back over a half century of service in the investigative branch of the church. Something like this, in the dim past, he thought, some earlier incident, forgotten and buried in the records...
"Call the research department, old country. Tell them to use the following keywords... " As he spoke, the old man scribbled a list of words on a letterhead sheet, and handed it to his young assistant.
"This is urgent! It is to be communicated under encryption. Highest priority, for department head eyes only. Now hurry, and speak nothing of this to anyone outside our office." The old man rubbed his forehead in nervous agitation. Yes, he thought to himself, I remember. We thought it was over, eradicated, obliterated. Perhaps we missed one, or like weeds it has sprung from the earth once more. No matter. We killed it before, we'll kill it again. He reached across his massive desk and picked up a seldom-used telephone.
The high-speed film was processed the same night it was exposed. Black and white grainy images, typical of film pushed by aggressive development, yielded recognizable views of an elderly man of Caucasian descent, dressed atypically for his race. Shoulder length hair in odd streaks of gray and black hung loosely from his head, restrained by an intricately beaded headband. His clothing was typical for the the western ranching region, but his footwear was not. His tanned leather moccasins, high-topped and decorated with intricate bead work designs, and laced in the style of a rider's leggings, were not at all typical of modern western wear for anyone, let alone a white man.
The elderly investigator studied the photos. The manner of hairstyle, the headband, the moccasins and leggings, all stirred his suspicions. He began to associate the manner of Father Bernard's death to his early memories of long-forgotten church history.
"Call a courier. Have these images sent where you sent the list of search words. Have them research the bead work patterns on the headband, and the footwear. Again, highest priority, and strictest confidence. No speculations, no rumors. Is that clear?"
The assistant scurried to his desk, packaged the photos with a scrawled note in an envelope, locked that into a courier bag, and called their courier service. He felt a sense of foreboding. Something about his superior's disquiet was contagious, disturbing. He had no clue to the possible cause, but since the grotesque death of Father Bernard, everyone in the church structure was nervous, unsettled.
If only we had dealt with that corrupt bastard as he deserved, early on, he thought to himself. Such thoughts could never be uttered, he knew. He should have been retired; quietly sent away.
Monsignor Arturo Vitelli was a suspicious man. He took nothing at face value. He was a natural-born ferret, a wraith, a shadow who could and did peer into every keyhole, crack, disguise, facade, and story until he uncovered whatever lay hidden behind. As a child, he had learned that his parents cheated on each other. He had secretly observed his father going to assignations with a young widow in their neighborhood of the ancient European capital city where his family had prospered and achieved power within the ruling church. He crept through the streets behind his father, unseen, and once he'd learned the house location, he had crept through the alleys and gained a vantage point where he could peer through windows and gaze upon the obscene sight of his father's fat body bouncing upon the sprawled form of the younger woman. Oddly, he felt no arousal himself. Sex was of no interest to him. It was the pursuit of secrets that fueled his lust and became an insatiable appetite within his young mind.
His mother was much easier to reveal. Her lover came to the house when she thought herself to be alone, her husband away at his church offices, and her son at school. Arturo found a secret entrance into the house through the basement and up the back stairs. It was easy to bore a hidden spy hole from a back closet into his parent's bed chambers. Even he, poisoned at an adolescent age with cynicism, was astonished to see that it was the young priest from their own district who was grunting and thrusting between his mother's quivering thighs, her knees pulled nearly to her shoulders, her lusty, obscene cries heard but ignored by their embarrassed household staff.
Arturo kept a secret diary, filled with meticulous detail. Every fact, every careless word, every bit and hint of evidence uttered within his hearing was recorded. In time it would become his passport into the elite hierarchy of those who guarded the greater secrets of the church. None dared oppose him. None dared thwart Arturo Vitelli's ambitions. He held secrets that if whispered in the proper ears would destroy any who dared. His father was first to learn the awful truth.
When the patriarch proposed that Arturo, youngest of his several sons, be sent to a distant monastery to learn humility in acolyte service, and further, to be limited to a small portion of the family wealth, Arturo insisted on a private meeting in his father's office. He left with a guarantee of a fully-endowed education at any university of his choice, anywhere in the world, and a signed will and covenant guaranteeing him the bulk of the family fortune, accessible at any time of his choosing, with the further guarantee that all would be his upon his father's death. Arturo graciously expressed his wish that his father's death might remain far in the future, but the inheritance was assuredly his. In return the senior Vitelli was assured that no hint of his lusty indiscretions or his egregious venal sins would ever reach the ears of his superiors.
"And father, should I myself suffer an untimely accident or death, it would be a tragedy of the greatest magnitude. Certain parcels and letters would be revealed as my parting legacy, and I fear the results would be unfortunate for any whose name is recorded therein." Many might speculate how such records could be found or intercepted, but the risks were too great and Arturo was careful never to overplay his hand. A sort of détente was reached, bargains struck, and over the years all the players in his great conspiracy of peaceful coexistence had learned to accommodate themselves to a certain level of trust.
Secrets were greater wealth than gold or jewels. Secrets were the foundation stones of power, and Arturo was a master at conserving them, using them with extreme caution. He wielded them only to the degree necessary to achieve his ends.
Arturo Vitelli loved his life in the United States. He was a powerful man. He was a quiet power in the most powerful church in the most powerful nation on earth. He avoided public exposure like a wraith avoided daylight. Let others wear their robes, flaunt their positions, display their acquisitions. He possessed the power of secret knowledge, as easily concealed as diamonds and as deadly as cyanide drops. One word and anything was his.
Arturo at this moment was a very disquieted man. All these decades, all his knowledge that few could guess existed, and here was a secret thrust unexpectedly upon him. Who confronted Father Bernard and caused his death? What was the power that caused a man to tear himself to pieces? From where did it come, how had it been discovered? Or had it been slumbering, hidden away, only recently reawakened? He had a strong suspicion, now that his memories were aroused and recalled some distant hints, but he must dig much deeper in the old records. He must uncover each facet of what he suspected was an ancient enemy. He feared an enemy might have come upon them again, and he must act swiftly.
Mike Peterson had no doubts. He knew that his visit to Kansas City would probably raise alarms in the church. When he sensed and then saw the figure in black, hidden in the black sedan, a vehicle that literally screamed power and authority, he knew that he had somehow been suspected or linked to Father Bernard's death.
The truth was much simpler. Monsignor Vitelli had a network of informers. It was an informer in the great cathedral who kept careful track of Father Bernard's indulgences with the children of his congregation. There was a list, a very long list spanning two decades, encrypted and damning. The last name on that list was a loose end that needed monitoring. Arturo had sent one of his investigators to observe, to monitor the Jacobs household for any hint of reprisal against the church. The possibility of Jacobs hiring outside investigators or agents could not be ignored. No stranger was to enter the Jacobs household without Vitelli's knowledge. It was his man who photographed Mike; it was his man who had traced their daughter's flight to the west; it was his office that had accumulated a dossier on Kenneth and Helen Granger and Marilee's sanctuary in the Methow Valley. This new revelation of Mike's visit was just another packet of information in that dossier.
But now there was another factor — that disturbing clue — the cause of the frantic search now sifting through the archives of the church in the old country. What was the meaning of the patterned bead work on the old man's strange leather wear?
If the statue of the Madonna in his office had ears, she'd have blushed. If she had eyes, she'd have wept. If she had senses, she'd have fled the office in shame and disgrace. Arturo had just received a report from the church archives in Europe, and learned the source and meaning of the beaded symbols on Mike's headband and moccasin leggings. He was not pleased. He had spent the last five minutes expressing his displeasure. His assistant in the outside office heard every word through the ornately paneled mahogany door into Arturo's office. The curses were not in English, but the assistant understood every word. He marveled that no single word, phrase, or nuance had been repeated.
To say Arturo Vitelli was upset was to say the Trojans were upset when they discovered the secret of the gift horse.
The organized church had spent centuries eliminating all forms of dissent and heresy against its supreme authority. Native beliefs or practices were considered anathema. People were burned, alive when useful, as an object lesson. Tortures were ingeniously invented and applied. Civilizations were destroyed and their cultures eradicated. When possible, governments were subverted and undesirable practices were outlawed, their believers killed or imprisoned. Even in America, native beliefs were labeled as superstitions practiced in ignorance, with dangerous substances that were forbidden by law. Bigotry and discrimination were openly tolerated against native peoples. Anyone claiming healing or spiritual powers was condemned and prosecuted as a threat to the community.
Native cultures and their religious beliefs were so totally marginalized and proscribed as to be utterly vanquished.
A native shaman and his beaded symbols were included in a priest's report with sketches dated from the late 1600s in the Pueblo region of the American southwest. The priest had accompanied a Spanish exploration party. He attempted to build a series of missions among the Pueblo peoples. The effort had been well received during the first year. The natives seemed to accept the concept of a universal god who brought teachings of spirituality and salvation to the people. It was when the priest, with the help of Spanish soldiers, enslaved several dozen natives as forced labor to build the mission church that things turned sour. The priest punished the rebellious disobedience of the unwilling workers by having three of them whipped to death in front of the others, as an example of his god's power over them. The surviving natives were forced to work under threat of death by impalement on one of several sharpened stakes set outside the mission gates.
The priest reported that a native shaman had appeared at the gates and, through a Spanish interpreter, bade them unwelcome: Release our people and leave. Do no further harm. The soldiers attempted to seize the shaman, but were unable. They were frozen in place, staring in horror as if seeing the face of Lucifer himself, the priest reported. The shaman and his party left after delivering their message. The priest included a series of sketches of the shaman's dress, and of the symbols he wore on his headband. He also included sketches of the odd moccasin leggings that laced nearly to his knees, and the symbols beaded on them.
There were no other reports from that priest. Instead, there was a report from the sergeant of the soldiers who escaped that region. Barely a quarter of those survived who had been assigned to protect the priest and his mission. Two facts of that Spanish sergeant's report infuriated Arturo Vitelli: the first fact was that the priest had been overcome with madness, and had torn out his own throat; the second was that the sketches of the bead work patterns made in the late 1600's were identical to the patterns in the photographs laying on his desk.