Truth Is the Perfect Disguise
a novel in progress

FOUR

        The newspapers were spread across the kitchen table where I'd reread the stories about the disappearance of Matt Riley after retrieving them from the trash last night. They still smelled faintly of used coffee grounds and still had very little to tell me.

        Wander turned to look at me with his sad eyes from where he stood patiently by the door. I walked over and let him out. The vast acreage of the estate which sprawled across the expensive landscape surrounding the cottage gave him more than enough space to do his business and check out the scents of the day. Not that he needed much space anymore. Wander was too old a dog to live up to his name these days and he was no longer inclined to roam very far from the comforts of home. I shrugged my shoulders to loosen the dull ache of last night on the court and knew exactly how he felt.

        Every morning when I stood at the door and watched the dog go about his business, I marveled yet again that I had somehow come to live at this place. The Dorfmann estate covered some 20 acres of prime real estate in the city's most exclusive and expensive bedroom community, hidden away at the bottom of a winding street just far enough away from the high speed expressway which serviced the distant suburbs for there to be neither noise nor traffic, just close enough to make access to the city simple and fast. My cottage, for all practical purposes, had four acres to itself which were maintained by the staff. It was mine for life, the reward for a favor I'd once done for the owner. It was the sort of favor few others knew of and no one ever talked about, especially the man for whom I performed the service. And me.

        With that expression his face that I presumed was one of regret, reflecting memories of squirrels never caught and meadows over which he could no longer romp, Wander came back to the stoop, stopped to look up at me sternly and walked inside. Breakfast had been demanded. I filled his bowl with the small size bits he could still chew and digest, coated with a dusting of brewer's yeast, and, while he ate, filled the tank of the espresso machine with water, ground a fresh two-cup batch of dark roasted Italian beans and concocted myself a cappuccino with a perfect foam made with two percent milk.

        I sat at the table and took up yesterday's damp, stained paper again, ignoring this morning's, which I'd brought inside from where it had been delivered to my doorstep by Felipe, the estate's foreman. The big, bold headline still jumped out at me, covering the left half of the front page, bumped from the more significant right hand side by another bit of idiocy from Washington:

BELOVED PRIEST DISAPPEARS WITH CHARITY MILLIONS

        There was full-color file photo of a much too young Rev. Michael John Riley running across two columns beneath it with a sub-headline next to it:

Caretaker of university funds for foreign missions missing,
audit reveals pattern of illicit withdrawals and missing funds

        Ten inches on page one and about the same length on the jump page, had nothing new to add except background. There was a reprise of Riley's career and rapid rise through the religious order, including the tempestuous years as Dean of Students in which he'd been at total odds with the student body…and the entire 20th century, for that matter. That had sidetracked what once seemed a clear track to the university's presidential office and put him into the more mundane area of financial affairs.

        Mundane was no longer operative after yesterday's headlines, of course. Management of the Far East Missions Fund, outdated as the whole concept of missions and Pagan babies seemed these days, was a big deal, uncounted dollars pouring into the coffers annually, most of it from the sort of people who thought "these days" were a curse of Satan, graduates who were still true believers and, most of all, corporate entities eager to curry favor. How much wasn't clear; nobody at the university was talking, except for a charming "no comment" from Jack Hanlon, and the paper's investigators had so far been stonewalled.

        Hanlon needed to find Riley fast and I knew why he had chosen me for this assignment. It had little, if anything, to do with my perceived skills at such matters. There were things that the reporters did not know, things that few people alive knew. Things Hanlon knew, and so did I. That was why what he had slipped into the useless university file he'd handed me had been the real point of our late night meeting. It was a small sheet of paper with a single line on it, carefully written in Hanlon's almost girlishly perfect handwriting.

        A telephone number and a name.

        A woman's name.

Chapter Five


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Copyright (c) 2007 Jack Curtin