Page 13 of The Body Departed

Jacob scurries behind the altar and shuts his eyes. After an unknown amount of time, he opens his eyes and peers around the altar, but the spirits are all gone, including that of his music teacher.

Jacob is now alone with the killer.

21

The killer moves quickly.

He repositions the piano bench, which has toppled over in the melee, then moves over to the body. He struggles mightily as he lifts her, but he’s a determined killer, and soon he has her back in a sitting position on the bench. He gently lays her face down on the ivory keys, closes her eyes, and folds her hands in her lap. I see that there is fresh blood beneath her nails. The killer’s DNA. Something for the police to chew on. Good.

Now he reaches around her neck—the same neck he has just choked the life out of—and unclasps something. A necklace? Good God, is he just a common thief?

Not quite. The necklace has something dangling from it.

A key.

And like a cannon shot, Jacob suddenly bursts from behind the altar and launches himself onto the killer’s back, kicking and screaming and punching. Although he never materializes—and I sense the boy doesn’t quite know how to materialize—Jacob somehow manages to make his presence known. The killer, who was about to turn around, suddenly pauses and shivers and looks warily over his shoulder.

What happens next, admittedly, shocks even me.

The killer whispers a name—a name framed as a question: “Jacob?”

The boy, angry and spitting mad, doesn’t catch his own name being whispered. But I do.

The killer pauses a moment longer, listening, waiting, then shakes his head, and now he’s moving again, quickly. Jacob, still screaming, moves with him, following him around the piano and over to a side door near the raised stage. The killer uses his freshly stolen key, inserts it into the doorknob, and turns. The door opens. He steps inside, and Jacob follows right behind.

A single overhead lightbulb illuminates a small storage room packed to overflowing with all sorts of church and musical supplies: choir gowns, hymnbooks, a stack of tambourines, and what appears to be a very old drum set. The killer heads straight for the far corner of the room. There, he moves aside a vacuum cleaner and drops to his knees and fishes around inside his jacket pocket until he comes up with a screwdriver. There’s a rusted air vent located at the bottom of the wall directly in front of him, and he sets to work unscrewing it, his rapid breathing filling the small room, echoing. Sweat drips from the tip of his nose. Once he gets the screws out, he moves aside the vent and reaches deep inside the dark hole in the wall.

Panic flashes across his face.

And then he smiles. He pulls something out. Something small and dark and square and covered in dust. He quickly screws the vent back into place, returns the vacuum, steps over to the room’s single lightbulb. There, he examines the square object under the dim light—luckily, so does Jacob.

It’s a very old leather wallet.

The killer opens it—and smiles again. Inside are many green bills. He removes them, shoves them in his front jeans pocket. Next, he moves quickly to the rear of the storage room and finds a suitably forgotten cardboard box stuffed with black cables and shoves the wallet deep within.

He turns, steps straight through Jacob, and shivering, exits the room.

22

Back in the sanctuary, the killer stops behind the dead woman. For the briefest of moments, I see remorse cross his bloodshot eyes, and as the man stands there staring down at her—and taking a phenomenal risk at being caught, I feel—little Jacob does something unexpected.

The boy moves around him and faces him, then reaches up and gently touches the deep wounds on the man’s face—fresh wounds from our piano teacher’s nails.

The moment Jacob touches him, the killer shivers, and the hairs on his forearms stand on end.

“Eli?” Jacob whispers, so low that no mortal could have possibly heard it, and yet the killer reacts instantly. He snaps his head up and looks directly into Jacob’s eyes.

The two stare at each other. And because I’m reliving all of this through Jacob’s memory—and thus seeing what he’s seeing—I feel as if the killer is looking directly at me, too.

The name Eli strikes a chord in me, too; it pulls at a distant, forgotten memory.

Jesus, what’s going on here?

But I don’t have time to contemplate it, as the killer next shakes his head and yanks himself out of whatever drug-induced reverie he thinks he’s in.

He heads straight to the altar.

Once there, he uses the same key to open a back panel. I know immediately what he’s after: the church’s treasured sacraments. Jacob watches quietly as the man removes a large plastic trash bag from inside his jacket and begins shoveling in the ornate crosses, jewel-encrusted goblets, and golden communion plates. All would fetch a pretty penny on the black market—and all should keep him high for months.

When finished, he ties off the bag and heads back behind the pulpit. And looks up. Directly above him is the massive statue of Jesus Christ hanging grotesquely from the cross.

Is the killer asking for forgiveness? Is he praying? Is he perhaps mocking the Lord?

None of the above.

Indeed, he appears to be looking at what is hanging just beneath the crucifix. It’s a massive oil painting depicting Christ’s arrest on the Mount of Olives. Massive and old. And probably worth a fortune.

Since when do junkies have a taste for art? Perhaps junkies looking for something—anything—to pay for their next fix.

And I thought I was going to hell.

It’s a big painting and would take a lot of work for him to remove it, but the killer seems undaunted. He reaches up for it, and just as he does, something moves quickly to his left. Something dark and swift. A moving shadow, in fact. But Jacob doesn’t see it, or perhaps chooses to ignore it, and so I lose my chance to see what, if anything, it is.

But something seems to be out there, moving.

The killer doesn’t see it and continues reaching up, and just as his fingertips touch the ornate frame, something happens.

Unfortunately, the next few images are a blur.

In one of them, I see a very menacing red-eyed shadow rise up from the painting itself. In the next, the killer is beating a hasty retreat out of the church, his sack of stolen loot swung over his shoulder like that of a murderous Santa Claus. The anti-Santa. He looks back once, terror on his face, then quickly disappears through a side door and out into what appears to be a courtyard, complete with a gurgling fountain.

Jacob watches him go. Whatever spooked the killer doesn’t seem to affect the boy, who simply turns and looks back at his dead music teacher, who’s still propped up on the piano bench.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com