Calming the Fury
Beyond the Veil Part II
You can read Part I here
The icy water cascaded down the back of her beet-red neck, the groaning of the pipes the only sound as Reverend Mother bent her over the stainless-steel sink.
Expecting to be forcibly escorted from the convent right along with the reporter, Sister Thomas had fled to her room, sobbing as she pulled off her wimple and veil. But Reverend Mother had been hot on her heels, swatting the wimple out of her hand and leading her back to the kitchen.
Without a word, she’d slapped on a pair of thick rubber gloves and promptly bent Sister Thomas over the sink, shushing her gasping attempts at apology.
Somehow, even through the gloves, Sister Thomas could feel the warmth and care of the old woman’s hands as she gently held her neck, scooping water onto her skin to calm the fiery rage and shame. She was the only one Sister Thomas had told, the only one who knew what happened when she touched someone else’s skin and had put on the gloves as a precaution.
The first time it had happened, she thought it was because of the trauma—of being kidnapped and raped… of seeing what happened to Nirali. She’d run as far and fast as her legs could take her and when they’d failed, the policeman had been there to catch her, pulling off his jacket and wrapping it around her naked body, pulling her close to whisper that she was safe now.
But it wasn’t just safety she’d felt. In an instant, Katie saw this man, inside and out. The moment his rough hands closed around her forearms, flashes of his life filled her mind. His name was Frank and he’d been falsely accused of abusing his daughter some years ago. More than knowledge, she could also feel what he felt—his shame at finding out his wife had been unfaithful and that his daughter wasn’t actually his daughter at all. How he’d volunteered to help with Katie’s kidnapping case because she was the same age as his daughter and he needed to make up for abandoning her.
There, in that field, as this stranger held her, she could feel how much he loved her… even though he didn’t know her. It had felt good in the moment, knowing she could trust him. If she’d known the sensation would be a lifelong curse, she might not have basked so long in the feeling.
Unlike Officer Frank Cooper, Reverend Mother knew all about what she could do, understood there was no controlling it. Even so, she’d accepted her as a postulant, then as a novice, guiding her at every step through her commitment to Jesus and His church. But now, that was over. There was no way she’d let her take her vows after this.
“Fader Sheehan showed de reporter out,” Reverend Mother said, turning off the tap. “She was advised police would be called if she ever returned.”
Sister Thomas nodded, trying to suck up the tears and snot, genuinely touched Father would intervene for her, casting aside his gentle nature. If only he knew how unworthy she was of the gesture.
Finally, she stood up straight, rubbing a damp dish towel over her neck and shaved head, unable to look Reverend Mother in the eye.
“I’m so sorry,” she cried.
“Yes, you are sorry I was in de room.” Reverend Mother eyed her sternly. “But you are not sorry for what you said.”
“I didn’t mean—”
“You didn’t mean to touch her. Yes, I saw it was an accident. But when you saw into her heart and found her to be your enemy, you could ‘ave simply left. But you did not. You gave into your anger.”
“Because I’m evil!” she sobbed.
“No,” Reverend Mother growled, briefly losing control of her own temper. But then, she sucked in a long breath and rested her bony fingers on Sister Thomas’s arm, directing her to the small kitchen window, which was always half fogged. Together, they looked out onto the deserted students’ soccer pitch below.
“Listen to me, girl. Dere is nothing wrong with you. You can enter the church, can you not?”
Sister Thomas nodded, wishing more than anything they were in the chapel right now, instead of the cramped kitchen.
“And you can take communion, can you not?” This time, Reverend Mother didn’t wait for a nod. “No vessel of Satan can tolerate to hear the Holy name of Jesus. Certainly could not ingest his body and blood. You are a child of God and a servant of Jesus, even if we don’t understand… what gifts he’s given you. You are not evil.”
The last of her rage melted away, as it always did when Reverend Mother soothed her. She drew in a deep breath, closed her eyes, and nodded to herself. Her real mom had dragged her from one psychiatrist to the next, trying to find the right diagnosis—and accompanying medication of course—to solve her daughter’s delusions that she could read minds. When that made it worse rather than better, her staunchly atheist mother had relented and called the nice elderly priest who’d visited Katie in the hospital.
While her classmates were beginning their freshmen years at college, Katie was being examined by two professional exorcists—one Catholic, one Protestant—both of whom assured her she was absolutely not possessed by a demon. It should have come as a relief. But instead, it left Katie feeling hopeless and adrift. If not psychosis, and if not demon possession, what was wrong with her? And why couldn’t anyone fix it?
“I don’t know how to live with this,” she whispered, leaning forward until her forehead rested on the condensation-streaked window.
“When you first came here to us, I asked you if you wanted to become a nun to hide from de world, from what happened to you. Do you remember?” Reverend Mother wrapped her arm around Sister Thomas’s shoulders, pulling her back from the glass.
Unable to meet Reverend Mother’s eyes, Sister Thomas gasped out, “I thought He would heal me.”
She felt Reverend Mother’s head nod. “Dere are many types of healing. It may be our Heavenly Fader will heal your heart, but choose to keep your gift in place. To serve Him. If dat is so, do you still wish to wear de veil?”
An unvarnished clarity settled into Sister Thomas’s heart. No. I don’t want to spend my days in prayer. I definitely don’t want to feel other people’s emotions and see their most private moments. I want to be well. That’s all I want.
Finally able to look up at Reverend Mother, she braced herself for the sadness she expected to see on the old woman’s face. But there was none, only a sheen of loving acceptance radiating from her.
“Do I have to leave now?” she cried, careful to wipe her tears on her own sleeve instead of Reverend Mother’s habit.
“Not right now. Do you want me to call your mozere?”
“No. Not my mom. I- I need to call someone else. Do you still have my cell phone?”
Reverend Mother nodded. “It is wit de rest of your tings. I bring it to you tonight after vespers.” She gave her shoulders one final squeeze, then nodded at the dirty pots and pans, still sitting on the counter. “I leave you to your work.” And with that, Reverend Mother left her alone in the kitchen.
Relief and fear collided within her as she started washing the dishes—for the last time. There would be no healing until she knew what happened to her. And her memory was no help. She needed an impartial observer. An unblinking eye that saw the truth and documented it without passion or prejudice. She needed the camera. She’d run all the way to Washington State trying to scrub that certainty from her mind. But here it was, every bit as strong as the day she’d stepped off the Greyhound bus.
She couldn’t get the camera herself. She needed help, which is why she didn’t want Reverend Mother to call her mom. She needed Officer Frank Cooper, the man who wrapped her in his arms when she’d needed it most. The man who had checked on her daily while she lay in the hospital, and at least weekly once she was discharged. The man who needed redemption every bit as badly as she did. He would help her. Hell, when she called him tonight, he’d probably offer to drive all the way to Washington to pick her up.
April 4, 2003
Frank dropped the cardboard banker’s box onto the couch, its contents protesting with a metallic rattle. He thought there’d be more. Eight years with KCPD and it only took him one box and a small duffle bag to clear his personal items from his desk and locker. He could have called out sick, given how late he’d been out with Baskins last night. No one would have batted an eye. But it didn’t seem right to miss his last shift. So he’d sat at his desk all day, finishing up any last reports and catching up with the guys, then gathered up his Marine Corps plaques, his pens and his business cards, plus the extra sets of cuffs, and brought it all to his near-empty one-bedroom apartment.
It wasn’t empty because the movers had come. It was empty because he never bothered to fill it up with anything. It made moving easy. In a few weeks, he’d be moving to Laredo, Texas for his new job and all his crap could fit in his car. A new job in a new agency—Customs and Border Patrol, which was replacing INS. Hopefully, a new life would come along with it.
Now that he’d dropped the box, Frank moved swiftly to the kitchen, ignoring the sounds of a too-loud TV coming from next door. He needed a beer. Opening the fridge door, he reached in for one of the bottles of Coors, only to stop at the sight of his grey cell phone sitting alone on the empty top shelf of his fridge.
Ah, shit. He cursed himself and snatched up the phone, checking to ensure it still worked. He’d gotten a bunch of calls last night from a number he didn’t know and the asshole didn’t leave a message. On the fourth call, Frank had bolted out of bed and threw the damn thing into the fridge, sure the appliance would muffle the sound. Of course the better option would have been to turn it off but when you’re living off four hours of sleep…
Frank rested his arm and leaned on the still-open fridge door, seeing now there was a small envelope icon on his home screen. Someone had left him a voicemail.
“Guess I get to see who the asshole is,” he muttered to himself. Grabbing a beer with one hand, he held down the 1 key on his phone with the other, dialing his voicemail to see what was so god-damned important at three in the morning.
The voice in his ear stopped him cold, the bottle nearly slipping from his hand.
“Hi Frank,” the husky, feminine voice said in his ear. “I’m coming home… to Kansas City I mean. I’m taking a break from the convent. I uh… I’m really sorry to impose, but would you mind picking me up from the airport? I need to talk to you about something. I’m coming Friday night on Delta at ten p.m. If you can’t make it, that’s okay. But…um…” he could hear her let out a nervous exhale. “Just give me a call back, okay?”
The sound of her voice had stilled Frank. But the thought of seeing her again, at her invitation no less, shot him into action as if from a cannon. Stupidly, irrationally, he checked his reflection, as if she could see him though the phone.
Then, taking a deep breath to steady his heartbeat and rid his voice of any over-eagerness, he redialed the number Katie had called him from.
Don’t get yourself in trouble, Frankie boy, his instincts warned him. There was no virtuous reason for him to be this excited to see Katie Tahiri, to be happy she walked away from the convent. But he was.
She picked up on the first ring. “Hi Frank,” she whispered.
“Hi Katie,” he said, responding too quickly, stepping on her sentence. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m okay. Listen, I’m still at the convent and it’s not really okay for me to talk on the phone. Are you able to meet me tomorrow night? If not, I can get a—”
“Sure honey, I can do that. Are you staying with your mom?
“No. I’m getting a hotel. I- I haven’t told Mom I’m coming. Can… would you mind not telling her?”
His brow darted down, the oddness of her request jamming a pause into their rapid-fire conversation. But only a brief one. “You’re an adult, Katie. It’s not for me to tell you who you need to see.”
“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow.” And she hung up.
He lowered the phone from his ear, his disappointment at the abrupt end to the call mixing with suspicion. It wasn’t like her to be mysterious. Definitely not like her to keep things from her mom. Katie and Janet Tahiri had one of those mother-daughter relationships you see on TV, the kind where they tell each other everything and seem more like friends. The way they held hands when they talked and even cuddled on the couch while watching TV made Frank uncomfortable. It definitely was never like that in his house. Tess stopped hugging him shortly after puberty hit and she certainly wasn’t the hand-holding type.
All the joy buoying his sails at the thought of seeing Katie deflated immediately at the memory of Tess and the accompanying stab of grief as he wondered what she looked like now. He thought of his daughter every day but was too ashamed to keep even one picture of her on his desk at work. He had one of her here in the apartment of course, tucked away in his closet. He could only bear to look at her in small doses, especially now after so many years. She’d be an adult now, maybe off at college. Maybe she and Katie would have been friends… if things had been different.
But they hadn’t been different. Tess had been ripped out of his house by a fat social worker who looked at him like he was a monster. That was the year before she went to high school, where she would have probably met Katie. That year, Frank became someone people whispered about, the cop who was accused of molesting his daughter. Even after he’d been cleared, even after he’d divorced Maddy and moved to the apartment, the whispers still followed him.
It was Katie who gave him a new life. That day in the cow field, holding Katie close to him, had changed him profoundly. Everyone loves a beautiful girl of course, but it wasn’t her appearance that gave Frank his badly needed reimaging. It was her refusal to speak to anyone else on the force after her ordeal. After he’d carried her like Scarlett O’Hara to the command post, she’d shrieked if anyone but him tried to come near her. In that moment, Frank had been reborn a hero.
He hadn’t even been assigned to the case officially. But when they found the kidnappers, and only one dead victim, it was an all-hands situation. He’d gone with the rest of his district to canvas the Olathe cow fields to look for the other Piper girl. More than three hundred cops looking for one girl—dead or alive. But it had been Frank to find her, very much alive.
She’d gone through twelve hours of hell. Three losers had parked outside Piper High School, watching all the students leave from their debate tournament. The boys rolled the windows down to leer when the Piper girls—Katie and Nirali—had first stepped from the building. It never was explained why they went to the school or why they chose to grab those girls specifically.
But grab them they did and took them far south, past the suburban sprawl to a single-wide trailer parked in a cow field. That was the thing about the Kansas City Metro. You could drive from the heart of downtown to a farm in under twenty minutes. Just a short drive to where no one can hear you scream.
It still burned him to think about what they did to her. Even though Katie had made those fuckers pay, it still wasn’t enough to make up for what she’d been through.
His beer entirely forgotten, Frank strode the bedroom, leaning into his sad, nearly monochromatic closet, and tried to decide what the hell he should wear tomorrow night. Something sharp, but not so sharp as to tip her off he’d dressed up to see her.
She said she wasn’t staying with her mom. So where was she staying? A hotel probably. She had plenty of money from when she sued the shit out of that reporter. But for all he knew, she’d donated the money to the church.
Would she ask to stay with him? The thought of her seeing his apartment burned his ears and he shook his head. No. Even if she asks, she can’t stay here.
She hadn’t mentioned what exactly she needed his help with. And the fact she wasn’t telling her mother about her visit sat in his gut like a stone. But whatever she needed, whatever secret she was keeping, he would help her. No questions asked.