What happened to Father Marty, a wealthy and corpulent priest . . . and why is he dead? Did Father Paul play a role in the death of his mentor? If so, what role was it, and did he know he played a part?
Was it an accidental death, or worse . . . premeditated murder?
Detective Kate Gazzara doesn't want this case. She knows it's a can of alternative lifestyle worms just waiting to be opened, but her boss, Chief Johnston wants it closed... and quickly.
But she's right . . .
The moment she takes the case it turns into a twisted nightmare of lies, deception, threats, and intimidation. There could be a killer on the loose, and everyone involved is in danger.
Can Kate and her team of detectives find the truth, or will they need to use a more unconventional method to solve this one?
Kate is tired of getting the proverbial doors slammed in her face.
Her K-9 partner, Samson may not be department issued, but he has her back and may make it easier to open a few of those doors.
Ride along with Lt. Kate Gazzara and her new canine friend, Samson, as she begins to untangle this web of deceit.
Release date: September 27, 2022
Publisher: Blair Howard Books
Print pages: 310
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Samson: Case Fourteen
Monday Morning 7am
It was the singing of the birds that caught Father Paul Dindo’s attention as he walked along the sidewalk toward his new home. At least it had been for the past three months and would be for the next six years. They weren’t bad digs for a new priest. A five-bedroom, three-story mansion, newly renovated with all new appliances, a fenced-in back yard, and two flat-screen televisions—one at either end of the house—was not a bad place for a newly ordained priest to begin his ministry.
That weekend he’d been allowed to visit a friend in the small nearby town of Cleveland. It had been good to get out from beneath Father Marty’s watchful eye for a short respite.
Originally from Mokena, Illinois, Father Paul was thrilled when a longtime friend called and said he was taking vacation time to come to Tennessee from Kentucky to see him; it was as if no time had passed since they’d last seen each other. Father Paul appreciated that he could still tell his friend anything… well, almost anything.
“I don’t mind the old man,” Father Paul had told his dear friend Michael Hoss while they sat together in a small boat on Harrison Bay Lake with their fishing lines in the water.
“Is he strict?” Michael asked.
“I don’t know if strict is the right word.” Father Paul chuckled. “He’s certainly set in his ways. Everything must be kept tidy all the time. It’s sort of like staying in a hotel and you don’t want to mess up the bedroom or bathroom too much for fear of what housekeeping will think.”
“That’s got to be hard at times,” Michael said.
“I’m only just getting used to the man. I’m sure that by the end of my first year with him, we’ll have fallen into some sort of a groove. We do have some similar interests. Plus, I met him at seminary more than once. He’s got a very comfortable position, and who wouldn’t want to experience that?” Father Paul replied.
“So, it’s safe to assume there won’t be any trips to Haiti or the depressed countries of Africa in your near future.” Michael nudged his friend with the end of his fishing pole.
“That’s not what I focused on in seminary and you know it. I’ll be teaching. I’m just better at that than—”
“Lying under one of those nets to keep the flies and mosquitos off you,” Michael smirked. “Hey, you don’t have to explain it to me. We both know that I could never do what you do. It takes a special person, that’s for sure.”
Father Paul smiled as he thought of the conversation he and Michael had over the weekend. They’d known each other since high school. When Father Paul was still just Paul Dindo, he and Michael had spent an entire Saturday in detention for some offense he could barely remember. Talking during study hall or running in the hallway sounded as good of a reason to rob a kid of their Saturday as any. They’d spent the entire time scrubbing the boy’s locker room and then picking up trash from around the school property. They’d become inseparable after that.
“The best detention ever,” Michael often said when they repeated their story to new friends.
Joining the seminary to become a priest had been something Paul had thought about since his youth. At first it had been a casual idea, like whether he should get his hair cut differently. But as time went on and he began talking with his family priest and other seminarians and going to the youth group events and overnights, he realized that being a priest was the life he wanted. Michael had always been supportive. That was what great friends did. They supported one another.
And so, Father Paul walked up the sidewalk, missing his friend already. But they’d made plans to see one another during the holidays. That was only a couple months away, and if Father Paul played his cards right, maybe, just maybe, Father Marty would let him have Michael stay at the house. There was, after all, plenty of room. He reached in his pocket for his keys. Their jingling was the only sound to be heard, other than the singing of the birds and the occasional hum of the early morning traffic on the road on the far side of the house.
He mounted the four steps, unlocked the front door and stepped inside, expecting to be greeted by the smell of coffee and the shuffling of the housekeeper, Lori Fisher, as she went about preparing breakfast.
Father Paul didn’t mind Lori. She seemed to know her place, keeping the chatter and small talk to a minimum. But then he remembered Father Marty telling him she would be in later because she had a dentist appointment. Father Paul thought that was rather funny since her teeth were as crooked as a rundown picket fence on an old country road.
He stepped into the front vestibule, took his keys from the lock, and listened: not a sound. Did he sleep in, I wonder? If he did, it would have been a miracle. The man stuck to a regimen that would make a Marine Corps drill sergeant jealous.
Quietly, Father Paul shut the door and tiptoed down the hallway toward the kitchen. The hallway and the kitchen were dark and cold. Nothing had been turned on. There were a couple of dishes in the sink. That wasn’t unusual. Those would sit there until Lori arrived.
Listening again for the familiar shuffling of Father Marty, Father Paul walked a few more steps to the door that led to the garage. He grabbed the doorknob, gave it a twist, pushed the door open and peeked inside. Father Marty’s Lexus was parked there as usual. The tennis ball dangling from the ceiling was directly in front of the windshield on the driver’s side. Father Marty was very careful with his car, and the tennis ball kept him from pulling too far forward and scuffing the front bumper on the workhorses. Hmm… Father Paul thought rather absently.
He stepped back and shut the door, walked back across the kitchen to the door and shouted, “Marty?” No answer.
He went back along the hallway to the bottom of the stairs, passing by a large, donated painting of Saint Francis of Assisi with a dove on his shoulder and another about to land on his outstretched hand.
He put his hand on the wooden banister. It felt… slick, sticky. “I need to tell Lori to clean that,” he muttered.
And then suddenly, he was nervous. Why, he didn’t know. There was no need to get into a sweat because his superior wasn’t up and about. Maybe he had a couple of drinks last night. It wouldn’t be that unusual. Or maybe the man died in his sleep. That’s a natural thing, and Father Marty’s getting on in years. It happens all the time, Father Paul thought as he slowly ascended the stairs, all the while listening for any movement. The creak of a bedspring, the groan of a floorboard or even snoring. But there was nothing.
“Marty!” he shouted again. The hallway at the top of the stairs stretched out in front of him like a funhouse hall of mirrors. A sense of dread came over him. He was beginning to imagine that Father Marty had had some kind of heart attack or aneurism and was lying on the floor in the bedroom or the bathroom. Steeling his nerves, Father Paul walked to the guest bathroom, the first door on the left, and peeked inside. There were several towels on the floor and the medicine cabinet door was open.
“Marty?” Father Paul sighed more than called, convinced he was going to find the older man dead in his bedroom. But when he looked inside the room, the bed was still made. No one was there.
Father Paul sighed in frustration as well as fear and continued on to the first guest room. The door was partially closed. That was unusual. It was next to Marty’s room and shared a bathroom. He pushed the door open and froze. What he saw, he would never be able to unsee.
The bed, still made, was soaked with blood. Father Marty Doberczec’s body was hanging half on and half off the bed. His feet were on the floor, toes pointed upward, his arm hooked unnaturally around the bedpost, his face bruised and the color of yesterday’s oatmeal.
Father Paul began to shake. In the corner, a computer screen flickered, but there was no sound coming from it. He couldn’t recall how long he stood there, but he knew he had to move, and quickly. He couldn’t waste any more time. As he ran around the house, he began to cry and babble to himself incoherently, trying to stay sane in an insane situation. Finally, when he thought he was finished and had been able to compose himself, he took out his cell phone and dialed 911.
“911 operator. What is your emergency?” the voice said calmly on the other end of the line.
“My name is Father Paul Dindo at St. Francis’ Church on Ooltewah-Ringgold Road,” his voice trembled as he spoke. “There has been an accident. A terrible accident.”
“Tell me what happened, Father?” The operator’s steadying voice gave Father Paul the courage to keep speaking. But he didn’t know what he was saying. It was as if he’d fallen asleep while sitting in the kitchen at the table.
“I came home and found him,” he muttered as the tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Who did you find?”
“Father Marty Doberczec.” Father Paul blinked and looked up at the ceiling, holding the phone to his ear with one hand and nervously rubbing his thigh with the other.
“Listen to me, Father. Is he still breathing?” the operator asked.
“I don’t think so,” Father Paul replied.
“Okay. Please calm down. The police are on their way. I need you to go and see if Father Doberczec is still breathing. Can you do that for me?”
Father Paul’s mouth went dry. “Please don’t make me do that. I can’t go back in that room.”
“If there is a chance your friend is still alive, you need to confirm that so that—”
“I don’t think he’s still alive,” Paul said. “There was so much blood that—”
“Could you see where the blood’s coming from?” the operator asked, her voice firm.
“It seemed like all over,” Father Paul said and started to cry again. He tried to answer her questions, but he couldn’t properly form the words. They were jumbled, and he was continually coughing and gasping as the reality of what he’d seen slowly seeped in.
“Father Dindo, I need you to calm down and listen to me. The paramedics and police are just a few blocks away. Make sure the door is open for them so that they can get inside.”
“It’s open. I just opened it.”
“Good. Now I need you to go and check to see if Father Doberczec has a pulse,” she insisted.
“I can’t. I just can’t,” Father Paul sobbed.
“Is there anyone else in the house with you?” she asked.
“No. I mean, I don’t think so. No. There isn’t anyone else in the house. I think… I think I hear the sirens.” Father Paul felt his heart start to race. His breath was coming in short gulps. There was a brief second when he thought he was going to pass out, and he couldn’t help but wonder how that would look when the police arrived. They might think he was the body, not knowing about the bloody mess upstairs.
He bit down on the inside of his mouth. The sharp, uncomfortable pain brought him back. He listened to the operator and walked outside as the paramedics and police screeched into the driveway.
I’ll have to talk to the police, he thought. They’ll know. They’ll know right away, his thoughts needled him as he absently hung up on the operator.
“Just stay calm,” he mumbled. “They won’t know. They won’t know.”
Paul looked at his watch. He’d found Marty lying there just thirty-five minutes ago. Just thirty-five small minutes. It won’t make a difference. He was dead. He wasn’t breathing. Nothing’s changed. You just did what any good friend would have done. You didn’t change anything. You didn’t do anything wrong. You came into the house, did a little tidying up before you realized what had happened. That’s all. And that isn’t a crime, he thought, comforting himself as the EMTs hurried out of the ambulance, the police following closely behind. They looked big, huge, in their bulletproof vests and blue uniforms.
Father Paul began to tremble as he folded his hands after pointing the emergency medical team into the house and up the stairs. As he began to answer the police officers’ questions, he couldn’t stop crying.
Monday Morning 8:30am
I’ve always liked grocery shopping. It’s one of those rare moments when I’m not Captain Kate Gazzara of the Chattanooga Police Department, Homicide Division, a detective who spent her days and half her nights staring at crime scene photos and typing up reports. It’s one of those rare moments when I’m not a woman with a mission who carries a Glock 17 under her jacket—although I never go anywhere without it—as she roams the aisles with a shopping cart looking for a decent box of red wine—is there even such a thing?—to keep in her kitchen. So, it was one of those mornings… you know… nothing special. I’d taken a personal day off, and I was doing a little grocery shopping. Well… that’s how it started.
“Do I need shampoo?” I muttered as I strolled down the personal hygiene aisle. It’s not a good thing for a police captain to forget if she needed something that made her smell nice. I always had problems remembering the small stuff but, on the flip side, I had no trouble remembering how much heroin was detected in the body of a junkie found dead in a motel bathroom. That had been an open and shut case. A classic overdose.
That was a week ago. Crazy as it may seem, it had been rather quiet since then. I’d been able to catch up on my mountain of paperwork. But I knew… I always knew; it was just the quiet before the storm. And the storm was about to break.
I’ve been a cop for almost twenty years, and a detective for eighteen—yes, I was fast-tracked into the job—and I had a good teacher, Harry Starke, whose partner I was for eight years until he left the force and opened his own detective agency. Actually, he was… more than just a partner, but we won’t go into that. So, you see, I know when a storm is about to break. I can feel it in my bones, in my gut, and that Monday morning was no exception. It had been too quiet for too long.
As I walked slowly up and down the aisles, I was feeling like a regular person for the first time in a long time. And I got to thinking about my life and my job. It wasn’t that I didn’t like being a cop. I did. I loved my job and my crew. And, although it would take a team of wild horses to drag it out of me, I was only as good as I was because of that crew, but I would never tell them.
I think it’s better to be a tough but fair boss who forgets their birthdays rather than an incompetent kiss-ass who brings cupcakes to work on Fridays. There were already too many of those in our police department. How a person can get into the public servant business and not serve the public is beyond me, I thought. Sure, the people often seem ungrateful, but the truth is that doesn’t matter to me. I do what I do out of a sense of purpose. I catch bad guys. It’s as simple as that. It isn’t a perfect system, but it’s the best we can hope for in this flawed world of ours.
No, it isn’t fair that sometimes the bad guy gets only a slap on the wrist. However, what people don’t know is that that same bad guy will be watched and trailed and haunted until he screws up again, and then my team will nab him. We aren’t superheroes. We’re just people who have chosen to dodge bullets for a living.
I chuckled at my own thoughts but nearly swallowed my gum when my cell phone rang, startling me.
I looked at the screen. It was dispatch, and I knew immediately it had to be bad if they were calling me on my day off.
“Gazzara,” I muttered into the phone.
“I hate to bother you on your day off, Captain, but we’ve a possible 187 at Saint Francis’ Rectory over on Ooltewah-Ringgold Road. Chief Johnston wanted you notified immediately.”
“Any details?” I asked.
“Just that it’s a mess and that the media will be all over it.”
“Has Sergeant Russell been notified?” I asked.
Sergeant Corbin Russell was… unlike anyone I’d ever worked with before. He’d joined my team when Janet Toliver, one of the best female detectives I ever had the pleasure of working with, was promoted and transferred to the Special Victims unit.
Not only were the differences between them obvious… Well, he was a man, and he was older than her. But where Janet had a knack for seeing stuff that was hidden in plain sight, Corbin studied scenes and people as if he was going to have to take a written exam. He took meticulous notes and never let anything distract him from the task at hand. I never considered myself a barrel of laughs, but I knew something funny when it happened. I also knew that those inappropriate giggles were not only unavoidable at times, but necessary. We had chosen a career path that most people couldn’t handle. No. We never laughed at a person’s death. But a perfectly placed bad pun could keep a person sane. Well, it could keep me sane. Corbin, though, isn’t like that. He’s one of those strange cats that really do fit the stereotype: “Just the facts, ma’am.”
I wasn’t sure about him at first. It might sound crazy, but I thought the guy might be a little too goodie-two-shoes for my group and… something of a holy roller. He was deeply involved in his church and didn’t really drink a lot. Not that any of us were boozehounds cashing our paychecks at the corner tavern. But every once in a while, it felt good to toss back a few. But that wasn’t Corbin, and I wasn’t going to hold it against him. Secretly, I admired his conviction.
“Sergeant Russell is already on his way, ma’am,” the dispatcher said. “So is Mike Willis and his CSI team, and the ME.”
I nodded to myself, then said, “Let Sergeant Russell know I’ll be there as soon as I can, forty-five minutes or less. I need to go home and get changed.”
I paid for my groceries and headed home to put them away and sort out my new partner.
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