The Hammer of God

 

As far as his neighbours were concerned, Cecil was just a studious old man who passed his time designing coats of arms. The heraldist had committed no crime worse than attributing the bar sinister to a descendant who was adamant that he came from a legitimate line.

And yet some late night caller put a bullet through his brain.

No one in the other apartments heard anyone enter, fire the gun, or leave. Cecil was found there by the cleaner, sitting peacefully in his armchair, spectacles on his nose, crest of a noble house on his lap, and small circular hole in his forehead.

Vera, a close friend of his had died the same way three years previously, only she had been living in Spain in her timeshare villa. Spanish and UK police could find no motive or clues either. DC Paul Fallon suspected that there was some connection between the two. As the victims were both over 70, it was probably historical. Finding the crucial link - if it existed - would be time-consuming.

DI Riesen was strangely diffident about the murders. ‘Only the last shooting falls under our jurisdiction. You can get the file on the other one and plough through it if you want. Doubt you'll find anything, though.’

DI Peter Riesen looked like a preacher, sounded as though he was giving a sermon when arresting a suspect and filled criminals with the fear of God when interviewing them.

The uncharacteristic reluctance of DC Fallon’s superior to admit interest in the murders triggered the young man’s instinct to delve, and not just into Cecil and Vera’s cases. Sometimes the detective constable wished he didn’t have the instincts of a ferret, prying into matters best left well alone, especially after he discovered that DI Riesen had secretly remained an ordained priest when entering the police force. Now he had the problem of deciding whether he should let anyone know. The rest of the station believed the austere detective inspector to be a closet gay because he had no wife or romantic attachment, not because he had taken a vow of celibacy. Given the huge man’s Spartan lodgings and rigorous self-discipline, nothing could have been more unlikely. But the explanation was as good as any other in their unpredictable world.

Perhaps DC Fallon should have left his DI safely confined to that unlikely category, but could hold his tongue no longer. He had to confront his superior.

‘It wasn't that difficult to discover. Couldn't it cause problems if anyone else found out?’

DI Riesen looked at DC Fallon with the patient expression of forbearance he reserved for infants and unbelievers. ‘It's a long story.’

Paul Fallon admired his taciturn superior. Anyone who could declare he was a teetotal Dominican at the height of an office celebration and not raise so much as a titter of derision deserved respect. The thought of causing this paragon problems didn't cross the young man’s mind, but the curiosity was burning. ‘Something you can tell me?’

‘I just heard one confession too many.’ Peter Riesen’s tone suggested the matter be dropped, but the question could not be rolled back.

‘That bad, was it?’

‘It was pivotal in my decision to join the police force.’

It was obvious that Paul Fallon wasn’t going to learn any more. He only knew that he wouldn't have been able to sit listening to the unspeakable behaviour others got up to without being able to arrest them.

So he tried to forget the enigma that was his superior and concentrate on Vera and Cecil's murders.

Then there was a third death; Oberon Jones, a close friend of Cecil's. Same method - a bullet through the brain.

There was nothing recent to connect the elderly victims to Vera, so DC Fallon spent hours riffling through their past histories before anything in common came to light. The tenuous connection was confirmed by an article in a 60s alternative magazine archived by the British Library. The title had been published in Cornwall where two victims lived for a short time. Although this cult had been active in the West Country for several years, there was no record of its members committing any crime. 40-year-old correspondence retained by Oberon Jones confirmed that he had also belonged to it. Though why anyone would want to kill any of them for joining one of the more unusual groups in the throes of hippiedom so long ago was a mystery.

As DC Fallon reported his findings, DI Riesen wore that inscrutable expression which suggested that he regretted authorising his assistant’s British Library reader's pass. He had chosen DC Fallon because of his deceptively innocuous personality, only to discover it concealed an embryo Sherlock Holmes. This young man was incorrigible when pursuing tenuous threads. It was only a matter of time before he discovered the far more profound secret his superior was concealing. DI Riesen was well aware that Paul Fallon, still in his twenties, regarded him as an old man in his late 50s, though not old enough to have been around in the 60s.

‘You’ve heard of these weirdoes before, haven't you?’ DC Fallon's eyes had that gleam of a squirrel finding an acorn.

DI Riesen had to answer. ‘Many, many strange, devilish cults came to the attention of the ecclesiastical grapevine. Not all of them were dangerous and just paddled in the shallows of the River Styx.’

‘But you've got special knowledge, haven't you?’ His superior's silence could only mean one thing. ‘Oh my God! It’s the seal of the confessional, isn't it?’

Faced with either agreeing or tossing the young man into the café's refuse container in the dark alley at the rear, DI Riesen raised his mug of coffee. ‘Drink up, we've got another crime scene to process.’

Oberon Jones had been a fit 72-year-old with an apparently active sex life. DC Fallon offered to interview the prostitutes listed in his maroon notebook but, much to his disappointment, DI Riesen told him to search the victim's flat thoroughly and bag anything interesting after forensics had finished. The DC could only wonder what the women would confess to the detective with the priestly bearing. They would probably detect his vow of celibacy from twenty paces.

DC Fallon dutifully searched drawers, and lingered a little too long over pornographic photos before finding an ancient album beneath them. The snapshots in this were even more interesting. They were of the satanic cult in their black robes. DI Riesen’s summary of those who dabbled in the devilish had been understated. Perhaps he thought his enthusiastic junior was not ready to comprehend anything beyond his Sunday school lessons, and he would have been partly right, if only because of the historical context. These characters could well have walked off a heavy metal LP cover.

Had those elderly, innocuous victims with bullets through their brains really been capable of sacrilege extreme enough to unsettle the granite persona of Peter Riesen? Paul Fallon found no mention of historical criminal activity in the records so something else, which he couldn’t fathom at that moment, must have been going on.

The quality of the images was good enough for him to identify Cecil and Vera, despite the heavy make-up and intervening years. The ones with facial hair were more difficult. The junior detective bagged the album with the intention of running it through facial recognition.

Job done, DC Fallon decided to see how his DI was progressing at the address that most interested him. The last person to “see” Oberon Jones alive lived in a basement flat with spindly geraniums in a window box blocking most of the light from its parlour, and a red lantern in the porch hanging by a single flex.

DI Riesen had long since gone. The junior detective would have made his apologies and left if its resident had not pulled him into her living room. Tiffany was in her late 40s and welcomed younger flesh after being interviewed by a dry, celibate, middle-aged copper.

She pushed Paul Fallon into an armchair and thrust a glass of cheap sherry into his hand. It was the last of the bottle and it was obvious where the rest had gone to as she toppled onto the sofa.

‘Odd one, your boss.’

He said nothing and sipped the drink.

‘Well I wouldn't have guessed Oberon had ever been a member of some weird cult. Never said anything about it to me - then we were too occupied to talk very much. Told me he was an interior designer, though by the state of his flat I wouldn't have thought it.’

‘You were able to help DI Riesen then?’

‘He just wanted to know about people coming and going, but mainly about Oberon's friends. Seemed more interested in tracking down the other members of this cult than finding out who killed Oberon last night.’ Tiffany started to drift off into an alcoholic doze.

It was obvious DI Riesen had another agenda. Knowing that he was an ordained priest gave the investigation an uncomfortable slant.

‘Yes …’ Tiffany rambled on. ‘There was only one name I could recall Obi talking to on the phone … Something to do with calendars …’ then she briefly muttered something incomprehensible before falling asleep.

DC Fallon sat gazing at the matronly woman wearing too much makeup, sprawled amongst the embroidered cushions, as an alarming idea tingled into life.

The detective placed a throw over Tiffany's exposed knees and quietly left.

All that afternoon, as he ploughed through the contents bagged from the flat, that disconcerting suspicion gnawed away at him. He told himself not to be ridiculous. To prove that his instincts were playing tricks on him he checked up on the whereabouts of DI Riesen at the time of the previous murders, only to find that they had always been on nights when he was off duty. That shouldn't have been too surprising if it were not for the witnesses who had claimed to have seen a tall man wearing a clerical habit in the vicinity of two of them. PC Fallon tried to reassure himself that anyone out and about at that time must have been drunk.

But Peter Riesen had also been in Spain at the time of Vera’s murder.

If a man of God wanted to hunt down members of a satanic cult, the best chance of discovering where they were was on a police database.

The young detective had to convince himself that he was wrong. However stern and secretive, his boss was an honourable man who wouldn’t even park on a double yellow line let alone hunt down geriatrics who used to be members of some ancient cult.

 DC Fallon worked until the early hours, examining the files of past murders DI Riesen had investigated. During those years several victims had been found with a bullet through the brain, and some of those had belonged to more recent devil-worshipping societies. Their killer had been nicknamed the Hammer of God.

When DC Fallon eventually returned home he was too disturbed by his findings to sleep. The next morning, the last thing he needed was to be called into the chief superintendent's office.

Eyes red, head throbbing and stomach rumbling through lack of breakfast, he gazed blearily at the senior officer.

‘You have been searching the database for over six hours, haven't you, Fallon?’ his immaculately turned out superior demanded.

The dishevelled young man's jaw dropped, unable to utter a sensible reply.

‘You have come across something we should know about, haven't you?’

What could the DC say? He would sooner be sent back to the beat than betray the man who was mentoring him into promotable material.

‘I was just following up a hunch, Sir.’

‘A hunch brought about by the fact that DI Riesen is an ordained priest?’

DC Fallon swayed a little.

‘Sit down, man, before you fall over.’

He obeyed. ‘I know the boss, Sir. He's as straight as a die.’

‘Just neglected to mention that he hadn't relinquished the cloth before joining us.’

‘I trust him, regardless of anything that points to the contrary.’ He didn’t need to add that he had discovered plenty which did just that.

The chief superintendent gave the DC a searching look. ‘You've worked out who the next victim of this Hammer of God is going to be, haven't you?’

Only two more members of Cecil and Vera's cult survived, and one of them was dying in a hospice.

The DC nodded cautiously. ‘It will probably be Julian Vance.’

‘And you had every intention of being there without telling anyone? - Don't answer that! Just be very careful from now on and play to my rules.’

Julian Vance had been a long-term partner of Cecil’s before the relationship broke up. They shared the proceeds of the house, Cecil going to his retirement flat and Julian to the ground floor apartment of a converted warehouse.

However trendy the area may have been during daylight, after the streetlights were switched off for the night it could have been an ideal hunting ground for Jack the Ripper. The only illumination in the narrow street came from a full moon, and there was a chill in the air which reminded DC Fallon that his combat skills did not match his investigative ones. Even with a protective vest he felt out of his depth. He could only hope that this wouldn’t be the night, one of the few when DI Riesen was not on call.

After waiting a couple of hours, which helped compound his insecurity, a tall figure in an ankle length habit approached from the far end of the street. DC Fallon ducked into a neighbouring alley as the would-be assassin approached the door of Julian Vance’s apartment. In the intermittent moonlight it was too easy to believe that he was Peter Riesen. Torn between calling out to reason with him and following orders, he held his breath and watched.

God's avenging angel hesitated, wondering why the apartment’s door opened at his touch. But not for long. His mission did not permit the weakness of caution.

He strode inside.

DC Fallon broke cover and followed.

The spacious, sparsely furnished room was dimly lit, the intended victim silhouetted in an armchair as he waited to be purged from God's universe by the Hammer of God.

The interloper drew a gun from his robe.

It was no good. DC Fallon could stand it no longer. ‘DI Riesen! No Sir! Don't do it!’

The assassin spun round.

It wasn't his superior, and the gun was now pointing at him.

Protective vest or not, Paul Fallon felt his knees buckle at the prospect of being shot. The Hammer of God put his bullets through the brain. The young constable needed a miracle to get out of this unscathed. Armed response was a minute away, but that was too long.

Then the miracle happened.

The figure in the armchair rose to its full height.

How could DC Fallon have mistaken this killer for the huge presence of his superior?

DI Riesen spread his arms as his voice resonated about the large room with the authority of the Metatron. ‘Father Raphael, this must now stop! This is not the will of any God we know! You have been doing the Devil's work! Repent these murders and return to God!’

Father Raphael had only one thing on his mind. ‘You broke the seal of the confessional!’

‘I have told no one. I have kept to my vows, unlike you who see fit to commit murder in the name of some imaginary entity. This young man has done neither you, nor God, any harm.’ DI Riesen pointed to his heart. ‘If you cannot see how misguided you have been, this is your next target.’

DC Fallon knew that his superior always refused to wear a vest. ‘No!’ he yelled.

It was too late.

DI Riesen was thrown back into the armchair as the bullet struck him.

Then there was the report of a shot from the doorway.

Father Raphael crumpled into an untidy heap, his habit falling about him like the wings of a dead bat. He had also believed that doing God's work was a better shield than a protective vest.

DC Fallon dashed to his superior. ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! Get medical help - quick!’

He ignored the commotion behind them as he pulled DI Riesen's shirt open in the hope of staunching the fatal wound, but it was too dark to make out.

The room was suddenly illuminated.

There was no blood.

Embedded in the large man's chest was a steel crucifix. It had buckled into his flesh with the impact of the bullet.

Only winded, DI Riesen gasped as he accused Paul Fallon. ‘You really thought that I was the Hammer of God?’

‘No, no, no! I knew you weren't - you couldn't have been! Believe me!’

The large man pushed himself up. He looked disconsolately at the other dead priest. Against all odds, he had been hoping to save Father Raphael’s soul.

Peter Riesen took a stole from his pocket, kissed it, and knelt beside the younger man to administer the last rites.

An eerie silence fell over the room until the chief superintendent’s voice announced, ‘Of course, Riesen, you do realise that this means your resignation, don't you.’

‘My mission has been achieved, although not in the way I would have chosen.’

‘Good man!’ The senior officer turned and left.

DI Riesen closed Father Raphael’s eyes, and then looked up at Paul Fallon. ‘What are you so crestfallen for?’

The young detective shrugged. ‘We were getting on so well.’

‘You can become an altar boy as soon as I find a new parish, if you want.’

‘Will your church allow you to have one after this?’

‘Probably for the novelty value. And this Pope is pretty broadminded. I only know that my police career has now been well and truly terminated.’