But in this picture he wasn’t exiting Bridleton station on a honey-trap night. In this one he had a dog collar around his neck and was wearing a cassock. Jackie turned it over. There was a handwritten note:
Father McKinley, All Souls
She was elated; a lead at last – and maybe - she looked at it closer. In daylight, the face seemed familiar. She thought the memory was going to surface, but it eluded her.
On her way out she went into the bathroom again. Stood there, listening. No vibes; nothing but the dripping tap.
She turned it off...
All Souls Catholic Church, circa 1610 according to the welcome notice, was situated south of Bridleton at the bottom of a meandering lane. The church, with its imposing spire, still retained its medieval look: a cobbled path leading up to a prominent stone building; presumably, solace for centuries of souls. A low stone wall, built in traditional layered Cotswold style, surrounded the grounds. A traditional Xmas card scene...
She felt slightly embarrassed parking her clapped-out pool car outside the glossy, wrought-iron gates. Next to the church, and in the same grounds, was a converted barn. At least it looked like that; a single-story, basic stone structure supported by blackened timbered joists.
No budget cuts here...
Jackie got out of the car, and stretched. Here, in the late afternoon sun, the air seemed invigorating; a certain freshness of countryside that was lacking in town. She sniffed; her nose wrinkled as the smell of cow dung permeated her nostrils.
Win some. Lose some...
The gates were unlocked. One side opened: she stepped in and walked carefully up the cobbled path to the church entrance; an imposing wooden barricade of a door.
She tried the handle: it was locked; a bell to one side. She pressed it, and heard a loud chime inside; enough to waken even the sleepiest priest – maybe one who had imbibed too much sacramental wine...
No answer; no sounds of footsteps across stone tiles, just a noisy cawing of disturbed crows on the roof outside.
She must have missed the menu on her way up. Pinned to a notice board, attached to the outside wall, was not a list of the latest Catholic cuisine but a list of Communions and daily Confessionals that ended at three o’clock. She glanced at her watch; shook it, and put it to her ear. It was ticking.
That late, already?
Nearly five o’clock and the evening shadows were rapidly approaching. She could feel the coldness seeping into her bones. She turned around; saw porch lights come on at the converted barn. She shrugged. Now she was there, it couldn’t hurt to see if she could locate Father McKinley.
A cobbled path led through the cemetery - she shuddered at ghostly shadows that seemed to accost her at every crispy step – up to a small latched gate that heralded the end of the Barn’s garden. Not that there was any garden to see; it was covered in a blanket of snow. But the cobbled path leading up to the lighted porch had been swept clear; what seemed like a sprinkling of salt kept the cobbles from being an ice-rink.
Jackie inhaled another cold lungful and made her way to the porch. She heard a choir singing gospel music emanating from inside the barn.
Someone’s at home.
The bell was huge; she pressed it. Disappointedly, it buzzed. The choir stopped in mid song. She heard footsteps; the door opened. An elderly man, dressed in a black sweater and jogging bottoms, stood there with an impassive face; a black Labrador at his heels started to slobber. He brushed the dog with his leg.
‘Down, Judas ... Sit.’
She had recognised him immediately. By sight, and by his voice. The same man at the station. And then it came back to her. Visiting confessional at Leyhill prison; she’d once seen him there chatting to several lifers – some of them rapists and murderers - for what good post-confessionals would do them.
He nodded, opened his arms in a welcoming manner. ‘And who might you be? A lost sheep?’
Do I look that bad?
‘Not me ... one of your flock ... Georgina Okoro.’
A fleeting glint passed across his eyes. He seemed to stall. ‘You still haven’t told me who you are.’
Jackie was cold, she was tired, she was hungry, and she’d had enough of playing games. She reached into her pocket, pulled out her warrant card and photo of him; handed them over. ‘Can we discuss this inside, sir?’
He took his time. Scrutinised her warrant card and returned it; then turned the photo over and read the note on the back.
He prodded the dog. ‘Inside Judas,’ and motioned her to follow.
She didn’t take to Father McKinley – or the slobbery dog - there was something about the priest, something she couldn’t quite put a finger on. But it was warm inside the barn. The lounge area –she took it to be the lounge - had a spacious feel; sparse furniture, a stereo system, plus a few Xmas cards on top of a cabinet. He waved her to a soft velvet armchair in front of a real log fire. She sniffed; the aroma of cedar wood invaded her senses – she felt her eyes blink - it was very comforting...
She blinked again. Watched him pick up a small log and fed it, popping and sparking, into the flames. Then he sat back down in his armchair, folded his arms, and gazed expectantly at her.
The time had come. ‘Georgina is dead.’
The blood drained from his face; his hands made the sign of the cross. His voice sounded tremulous, bewildered. ‘Georgina? Dead?’
She nodded. He certainly appeared shocked; unless he was a bloody good actor. She waited.
‘How? What happened?’
Jackie kept to the basic facts. ‘She was found drowned in her bath.’
He shook his head as if not quite believing it. ‘When was this?’
Jackie watched him closely. ‘I was hoping you’d be able to tell me that, sir. When was the last time you saw her?’
He squirmed a little in his chair; gave a small smile. ‘Last Sunday ... morning service.’ Presumably, he felt a need to clarify. ‘Every Sunday with her daughter ... she was a devout Catholic.’
That figured; the picture of Madonna with child on her bedroom wall; and once a week, confessing her sins to Father McKinley.
‘Did you ever visit her house?’
He looked up at the wooden beams crossing the ceiling, made the sign of the cross again, and then shook his head.
‘Is that a no, sir?’
‘I don’t remember...’
Jackie made a face; pulled out her pocketbook. ‘Where were you this Wednesday ... more specifically ... this Wednesday afternoon?’
He remained composed. ‘Here ... with Judas.’ As if on cue, the dog appeared and started to slobber at her feet. She gingerly moved her boots aside.
‘Can anyone vouch for you, sir?’
His expression darkened. ‘I’m not sure I like the insinuation, officer. It’s intrusive.’
Jackie sighed. While her gut reaction told her he had nothing to do with Georgina’s death; with no back-up, no other officer to verify what was being said, she was on a loser. He could wait her out; stone-wall her. Deny anything and everything; his word against hers.
She tried another approach. ‘Do you remember me, sir?’
His expression changed. He seemed to be appraising her. ‘Possibly, your face looks familiar.’
‘Perhaps if I put on more make-up it would help, sir. You accosted me outside Bridleton station ... when was it? Thursday evening ... three weeks ago.’
He almost jumped out of his armchair. ‘I did no such thing. How dare you...’
‘So you deny getting off the 9:30 train at Bridleton? Deny looking at the prostitute outside. Deny shaking your head at her, and condemning her morals?’
He put his head in his hands. ‘I don’t...’
She interrupted. ‘I don’t forget faces; it was you.’
He uncovered his eyes. It seemed like light had dawned. He choked out. ‘Good god. Was that young woman you?’
Jackie nodded. She crossed her legs, and gambled on the frailties of men. Men – including some priests - would have brains in their cassocks when it came to voluptuous females. ‘And I know where you went, sir. Number 17, Railway Road ... where Georgina Okoro lived.’
Judas growled again.
He slumped back in his seat, sounded defeated. ‘What do you want?’
Christ will look after me, sugah.
‘The truth would be a start, Father McKinley.’
He seemed to be thinking it through. He sat back up, patted the dog, put another crackling log on the fire, and settled down again. ‘Georgina ... it was platonic. We prayed together.’
Not what his body language said – randy old goat, more like.
Jackie spelt it out. ‘I couldn’t give a damn what you got up to while you were with her ... playing happy families, or whatever ... just tell me about this Wednesday.’
He went silent for a few moments that seemed like hours. Finally he made up his mind. ‘I was in the habit of visiting. She needed comfort ... I provided it.’ He stopped; gave the dog another pat, and then looked up. ‘Wednesday, when someone rang the bell, and I heard my young lady telling the person to come back later, I decided to bail out and abandon ship.’
Abandon ship? The same phrase that Plum Mouth used.
She needed to know. ‘Father McKinley ... last week before all this happened ... did you telephone the police and report that a man called Boyson threatened you outside Georgina’s house?’
His expression told her everything. Like a boy caught with his hand in a sweet jar. His venomous response made her flinch. ‘Daniel Boyson is a violent miscreant. He is unable to distinguish between right and wrong; my only hope is that he will see the error of his ways.’ He seemed to be seeking celestial guidance. ‘My duty was to help him repent through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
‘He was an inmate at Leyhill prison ... we’re talking several years ago, now ... before my hair turned grey and I lost my youthful looks. I was the Chaplain there for a while before I moved to this diocese.’
Jackie leaned forward. ‘What was his conviction?’
Father McKinley snorted, became animated. ‘He assaulted and raped two women ... but I knew he’d violated more ... we spent hours together talking about his ... his tendencies.’ He looked up as if picturing the outcome. ‘They gave Boyson tablets which seemed to take away his violent nature ... after a while he was regarded as no danger to the general public.’ He stabbed a finger in the air. ‘But I knew better than the so-called doctors and psychiatrists. He’d always be a danger. I had to protect Georgina. That’s why I reported him.’
Jackie had heard enough. Boyson would have a record; maybe a photo. Finding him would be plain sailing.
She looked at her watch; it was seven-fifteen, time to brave the elements. She forced herself up out of the warm comfortable armchair. Judas growled, watching her with beady brown eyes. She moved over to Father McKinley and lightly touched his arm without further alarming the dog. ‘I need you to come to the police station and make a statement.’
A frown crossed his face. He started to protest; but she shook her head; gave him her business card, courtesy of Bridleton nick.
‘Tomorrow will do ... and don’t worry; we just need to eliminate you from our enquiries. We’ll keep it discrete.’
But we’ll still take DNA samples. Find out if you’re telling the truth. Find out if you’re AIDS infected.