The plan matured as he scuffed across the dusty gravel so that by the time he got to his truck Blow’s initial, seething impulse to end immediately his legal relationship with Moriarty by texting her the word “finis!” had evolved to a recognition of the need to inquire, albeit with a sense of urgency, which he intended to express with the paired symbols “?!”
Grateful for having left the driver side window down but regretting not placing the metallic sunscreen across his windshield to keep the sun from baking the steering wheel and seat, he pulled open the door, reached gingerly into the cab with his ignition key and started the engine and a/c. He raised the driver side window, reached the sunscreen on the passenger-side floor and maneuvered it into place over the steering wheel, then shut the door and walked around the front of the truck into the shade of the tulip poplar. He figured the truck had enough fuel to give him time to send the text and cool the cab enough for him to drive in relative comfort to the nearest gas station. This plan received a slight bump when he flipped open his phone and found a text message waiting to be read. Odd, he thought, that he’d missed it despite having the phone on vibrate rather than that damnable beat me daddy ringtone he’d thought was cool at first and gradually come to hate but kept forgetting to change. He pressed OK to read the message.
It was from “Gloria.” All it said was “no!”
Several seconds after the burst of adrenaline the text had loosed into his veins Blow was able to prioritize his next immediate moves, the first being to get back to his truck, climb in and, enduring whatever heat remained there, get the hell out of the church lot and to the nearest gas station. He knew instinctively the exclamation point was the most important part of Moriarty’s message—a code that communicated directly with his gut, telling him the “no” was not voluntary. It was a warning. It had to be from her, he reasoned, because the message would be different if someone else had gotten the phone or if the number had been reassigned. If the latter were true and his message were not ignored, the return would either inquire, or would be an auto response. In what seemed to Blow the virtually impossible chance the phone had fallen into unfriendly hands, the message likely would be telling him to wait, and maybe would set a later time—either one he could not imagine Moriarty doing--or would be trying to lure him somewhere else. From the time stamp on the message he figured it had arrived about a half hour ago while he and Chris were between the truck and the church. Still disoriented from his nap and with the scuffing along the gravel, he obviously hadn’t noticed the phone vibrating. Anything was possible with Moriarty, but in this instance he knew at least the phone was still in her possession. That presumption nudged his focus away from wondering skeptically at her intent regarding the Morowitz case to wondering at her circumstances. The new wonderment took on a deeper significance when he got home and checked the answering machine on his office phone. The message was from a woman claiming to be the secretary at Patmos Evangelical Church, saying “something happened” and he needed to “come back here as soon as possible.”
The woman, whose voice was flat and professional—sounding almost bored--had identified herself as Joan Bismark. She didn’t leave a number, and Blow, finding no listing for the church in the phone book, called directory assistance. When he got through to the church the same woman answered. She told Blow “the reverend” was unable to come to the phone, and that she was “not at liberty” to say more than to advise “Mr. Stone” to return to the church. She emphasized that the matter was “extremely urgent.”
Blow returned the phone to its base, stared at it a moment, then pulled his cellphone from its holster and speed-dialed a number on his contact list.
“I don’t know, Homer, it’s getting squirrelly. Heading back up there.
“Yeah, Patmos. Little white church on Arrowhead Lane.
“That’s it. I was hoping you could get away for a bit.
“Just to cover me.
“Sure, and your camera.
“Right, near but not dear. Ha ha, ‘stand by in the vicinity’ or whatever you cops say.
“I just don’t know yet. Fifteen, if I don’t get a ticket.
“Thanks, buddy. Next meal’s on me.
“Buttonhook, my ass.
“Yup, down and out.”