The lonely residential street was nearly empty at nine in the morning, which put Silas' nerves at ease. It had been difficult to get the address from Jenny, especially since she had demanded that he have a reason for visiting former pastor Gregory, but eventually she had relented when he had made it clear that it was for Chelsea. Even though that was only a partial reason, at least it wasn't a lie, and Silas had made his way down toward the lake and the properties that surrounded it.
There were several richer homes on the shores of the lake itself, but the address had led him to a small street that rested on the edge of the town of Crow's Lake, and had a more modest appearance to the homes that lay along it. Adam's car was parked in front of one of them, and Silas made his way carefully toward the scene with Adelaide leading the way at the end of her leash. He was careful to make it seem like he was doing nothing other than walking the dog, and only glanced at the house occasionally. Each time he glanced, he looked for something new. First he noticed the well-kept yard. Then the tackle box and fishing rod on the front porch, and finally he saw what he was looking for; an open window on the side of the house with two people conversing inside, one of which was Adam.
Silas carefully walked past the house until he was certain that no one was outside to see him, and then dashed into the yard and around the back. The coast appeared to be clear as he navigated through the carefully plotted garden, complete with seedlings that held the promise of a hefty crop if they were well cared for through the summer. If the design of the yard were any indication, then surely the owner of the house was a master gardener, and spent most of his time in the yard.
Not wanting to make any impact on the garden that would be noticed later, he made his way carefully around to the side of the house and then crouched in the grass beneath the open window, pulling Adelaide into his lap. He let go of his other senses as he focused on listening in to the conversation taking place on the other side of the wall.
“I was really just wondering about something that happened several years ago. My mother was attending your church then, and it was just before you retired,” Adam was saying.
The raspy voice that answered was one that Silas would not soon forget. It had a grandfatherly quality, and it was filled with bitter sadness as Pastor Gregory replied, “I’m sure I know what you’re here for, Adam. This is about Daniel Winters, isn’t it?”
“Yes. I don’t know how you knew that, but yes,” Adam had confirmed with a dry chuckle. “That was a terrible thing that happened.”
“Yes, it was,” Pastor Gregory replied with a sigh. “I can only blame myself, really. If you want to know how I knew, it’s because the only reason people come to me from those days is because they want to talk about what happened. I used to speak with his parents about that time, and none of us could quite make sense of it. He seemed so happy.”
“I know. I was his boyfriend,” Adam said with more bravery than Silas had expected him to have. He had almost gasped at Adam’s boldness and blown his cover, but then he had realized that Adam had been firm in his conviction that Pastor Gregory was at fault. As if to confirm it Adam had continued, “I don’t see how it could have been your fault.”
“I made some mistakes, and I don’t think god was with me,” Pastor Gregory replied with a sigh. “I’m a terrible sinner, Adam.”
"What do you mean?" Adam asked, suddenly nervous.
Adelaide's ears perked up and Silas looked down at her, reading the expression in her eyes. He knew that look well. She was sensing another dog nearby. Silas was momentarily distracted by the sound of the sliding glass door being opened into the back yard of the house. Silas glanced down at Adelaide and grimaced, and then heard the sound of a woman's voice as she talked to the dog that she had presumably let out into the yard.
"Oh, do you smell something?" The woman asked. "What is it, girl? What is it?"
Silas cursed under his breath and started sliding along the house until he was on the other side of the window and in a much better position to run away if he needed to. He kept listening and found that the conversation between Adam and Pastor Gregory hadn't moved far past what they were talking about before.
"God wasn't with me because I had been stealing money from the church," Gregory said with a sigh. "The truth is, I was a terrible pastor, and I think Daniel's death was a wakeup call that I wasn't doing my job properly."
Silas shook his head and sighed in frustration. He had been hoping that the pastor would have more information than a sob story about why he left the church, but it seemed like he wasn't going to give them anything to go on. He could see a woman moving in the back yard with a black dog on the end of a leash, and it was time to leave in order to avoid getting caught.
He slid along the side of the house until he came to the front yard, and then casually strolled out to the street as if nothing were amiss at all. There was a woman across the street, smoking a cigarette on her front porch and staring right at him. He smiled at her and waved as he let Adelaide start sniffing around at the grass in the front yard. The woman ignored his wave and stared at him, taking another puff on her cigarette. Silas turned away and put his focus on Adelaide before walking a ways down the road.
Reconnaissance on Pastor Gregory wasn't going to get him anywhere, at least not from this location, but then he remembered a detail from before he sneaked into the yard. He took one last glance back toward the house and then headed down the road toward the lake. If he was patient then he'd be able to get all the answers he needed.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Silas watched the fisherman as he cast his line into the lake again. He had been observing the elderly man for nearly half an hour as he sat with Adelaide under the shade of a giant oak tree. The lake was crystal clear, and it was a relaxing vista for Silas; one that he wished he could enjoy more thoroughly.
But he hadn’t come for the lake. He had come for the fisherman.
Silas was sure that the fisherman had called out to the black Labrador beside him with the same voice as the one used by Pastor Gregory, and as soon as he heard it he had stayed nearby, first playing fetch with Adelaide and then simply resting beneath the tree, pondering how he might approach the fisherman.
Adelaide’s head jerked up as the fisherman whistled to the Labrador and the black dog came running toward him. He then reeled in his line and leaned his pole against his tackle box as he cleaned the bait off of his hook. Silas knew that he was about to lose his chance to confront the pastor and he rose to his feet. But he remained where he was. There simply wasn’t a good enough reason that he could think of for why he would have a need of bothering the old man.
But he didn’t need to worry, for as soon as the fisherman finished putting his gear away he turned and looked directly at Silas and called out, “I’ve always hated being watched. Why don’t you come down here and talk to me?”
Silas rocked back on his heels and considered darting into the woods, but then he remembered what he had come for. This was as good of an opportunity as any, and at least he had an in. He started down the slight incline toward the water’s edge as Pastor Gregory returned to his seat on the log he had dragged over to fish from. “Hello,” Silas said as he slowed down and stopped several yards away. “I was noticing your dog but I didn’t want to intrude on your privacy.”
“You’re not as good a liar as you think you are,” Pastor Gregory said with a smirk. “Your friend Adam told me about you. When I saw your dog I knew exactly who you were, but at my age I’ve run out of patience, so I thought I’d speed this conversation along.”
“So, you know what I’m here for then,” Silas said as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Are you going to tell me what really happened?”
“What really happened is that I made a mistake all those years ago, and it cost the life of a teenager who was in my congregation,” Pastor Gregory replied with a snap. “Did you come to antagonize me for some reason?”
“I know that what you told Adam was a load of crap,” Silas said with a roll of his eyes as he crossed his arms over his chest. Adelaide sensed his growing frustration and started growling, which perked up the ears of the Labrador. “All that stuff about how you were embezzling church funds and you feel like God killed Daniel to give you a sign that he was displeased with you . . . what a load of shit.”
“Well, you’re brave for one so young,” Pastor Gregory replied with a laugh. “I have to admit you’ve surprised me. Adam said you were a fiery one, but I hadn’t given it much thought. You’re right, there is more to the story, but it’s personal. Give me a good reason why I should trust you with that information, and I’ll consider giving it up.”
Silas grinned wide though his eyes remained hard as he replied without skipping a beat, “Because someone else is in danger, and I need to make sure she doesn’t end up the same way that Daniel did.”
Pastor Gregory pursed his lips and stared at Silas until he slowly began nodding. “So, you think that Pastor Simms had a hand in Daniel’s death. I’ve often wondered that myself.”
“You mean you don’t know?” Silas asked.
Pastor Gregory shrugged and Silas opened his mouth angrily as he prepared to respond but then the pastor started speaking. “No, I don’t. At least, I didn’t allow myself to dig too deeply. I told you that I made a mistake, didn’t I? Well, I made more than one. I wasn’t lying when I said that I had been embezzling the church funds, but I did lie about why I left the church.”
“Okay then, tell me,” Silas said as gestured for the pastor to continue speaking.
“Pastor Simms forced me out. He knew that I was embezzling, and he used that against me. He promised to reveal my secret to the congregation if I didn’t resign,” Pastor Gregory replied with a shake of his head. “I didn’t want to go to prison, so I let him have his way. I announced to the church that I had already been considering my resignation for a long time, and that I had met with Pastor Simms on the night of the suicide to talk it over with him. I didn’t realize until years later that he might have used that to get his alibi.”
“So you do think that Pastor Simms might have killed Daniel?” Silas asked. “Why didn’t you do anything?”
“I didn’t have any proof, kid,” Pastor Gregory replied with a shrug. “The cops were convinced that it was a suicide, and Officer Higgins had been the first one to arrive on the scene, and she’s so far under Simms’ thumb that I’m sure if he had anything incriminating at the scene then she swept it under the rug. He probably called her directly as soon as he knew I’d find it, considering she was barely a minute away after I called 911.”
“So she’s involved, too? That bitch,” Silas growled.
“She always has been. I always suspected that she and Simms were having an affair, though I don’t know for certain,” Pastor Gregory confirmed. “Why are you so invested in this anyway? You don’t know any of these people. You’re not from here. I have to say, it’s a strange sight to see such a young person so crazy about something they aren’t involved with.”
“Pastor Simms’ daughter is a personal friend of mine, and she’s in danger,” Silas offered with a shrug. “I don’t want to see her get anymore hurt than she already is. I want to make sure no one does again. Why is that so hard to believe?”
“Maybe I’m just too bitter in my old age,” Pastor Gregory replied. “But this time around, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that people remain safe. What do you want from me?"
"I'm hoping that you can give us more information about Pastor Simms," Silas explained with a patient smile. "We want to investigate, but we don't really know where to begin. You were our first lead, and now . . ." He shook his head and sighed. "Now we're right back where we were at the beginning. We don't know anything except that he tried to blackmail you, which just makes you look suspicious."
Pastor Gregory nodded slowly and then reached into his pocket, retrieving a ring of keys. He started removing one of them and then handed it to Silas as soon as it was off of the ring. "Here. This is a spare key to the church, assuming that Simms never changed the lock. He has no reason to assume I have a key, considering I turned my main copy over to him when I left, but then I found this spare at my house and decided to keep it as a keepsake. You can have it. Maybe you'll find something in the church?"
"You're much more helpful than I would have imagined," Silas remarked.
"Well, perhaps I'm sick of having Simms looming over me," Pastor Gregory replied with a shrug. "You put that son of a bitch away, all right? If he really is responsible for Daniel's death, then I want to see him pay for it."
Author's Note: Pastor Gregory turned out to be more helpful than expected, but will Silas and the others find anything useful in the church?
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