Vows

📅 Published on June 10, 2023

“Vows”

Written by Dirk Stevens
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 33 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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“Alice Smirnoff quits, and Bartholomew Brown makes prosecutor.” Shirly sighed as she draped her arm around Bart’s neck. “And to think, Mother said you’d never amount to anything.”

“Well, you can hardly blame her.” Bart smirked, letting his hands linger on the curve of her hips. “Kid shows up to pick up your daughter on an old motorcycle. Mohawk and all.” He slipped his arms behind the small of her back and pulled her body against his own. “If anyone told me back then that I’d end up an attorney…” The thought died in a soft chuckle.

Her eyes twinkled. “True, though I sort of miss the haircut.” She cocked her head to one side, twisting her face into a playful pout. “Whatever happened to Black Bart anyway? Did ‘Bartholomew’ swallow him up?”

A low grumble settled in Bart’s throat. “Oh, so you want the bad boy tonight.”

Shirly giggled. “You were never bad. Reckless, maybe, but never bad.”

“Ah, I see.” Bart laid his forehead against hers. “You think that now that I have a title, ‘Bartholomew’ will learn to play it safe.”

“No.” She pressed her lips to his for a moment and pulled away. Long enough to fill his mouth with the taste of her kiss, to ignite the fire in his chest, but only just. “I’m worried you won’t.” Sliding one arm from his shoulders, she tapped a long fingernail on the file folder lying on the desk beside them. His first as prosecutor. “I can’t believe Alice still used paper files.”

The whole office heard the shouting match that ended in Alice’s sudden and immediate resignation. Shirly didn’t blame Finch for being upset. Alice’s insistence on ‘hard copy’ made working with her absolutely infuriating. It was what followed the fight she didn’t understand. “Why didn’t Finch try to delay the trial? Did he say?”

Something in her voice, the look in her eye, made Bart’s neck hair prickle. “No…”

“Hmm,” Shirly hummed. “So, he hands you her archaic paper folder, and you’re supposed to read it, pick up where she left off, and be ready for trial. Tomorrow.”

Bart’s gaze followed hers. True, Alice was stuck in the eighties, but Finch made it clear this was going to be a cakewalk. No risk at all.

“St. Anthony’s is an open and shut case,” Bart droned, repeating what Finch told him only an hour ago, with a slap on the back. “That old monk was covered in blood when the police got there. Hell, they caught him bent over one of the victims, murder weapon in hand and all.”

But it was what Finch said after that that really convinced him. When Finch handed him a whisky and finished, “You can’t lose, M’boy! I guarantee it.”

“Ah, yes. The murder weapon. The sword of St. Anthony…” Shirly’s gaze flicked between his eyes. “Bart, doesn’t it strike you a bit strange that, that old monk would murder anyone? Or could? I mean, sword or no, the man is ninety-seven. And he butchers the family of one of his initiates? With a relic of his order? One of them an MMA fighter? And for what? Arriving sooner than expected for the instillation ceremony?” She shook her head, and glanced down at the file. “I’m telling you, this smells nine ways from Sunday.”

“Well, like you said, he is ninety-seven,” Bart laughed.  “They probably never saw it coming.”

Shirly winced. “You’re not taking this seriously.”

Bart’s smile faded. “Okay, but what was I supposed to do? Turn down the first case Finch gave me?” When she didn’t answer, he sighed. “I haven’t had time to go over it yet. I’ll get on it first thing in the morning, I promise.”

“Like you promised when you became a defense attorney?” She flicked the file open with her pinky nail.

“You remember that?” Bart chuckled, trying to recapture the moment. “Murdered his wife… for putting the milk at the back of the fridge for the last sixty years?”

Shirly’s gaze jerked back to his. “You lost that case.”

Bart sniffed. That was different. “With good reason. He was guilty as hell, and clearly insane.”

“Sixty years of saying the same thing, and being ignored, is enough to drive anyone to murder.” Shirly’s lips pulled into a pucker. “Word to the wise, husband.”

Bart took a deep breath. Her tenacity was one of the things that drew him to her, that made them such a great team. But he enjoyed it a good deal more when it wasn’t focused on him. “My point is, that people kill people for all kinds of reasons. Milk or being early. They aren’t in their right mind at the time. If they were, I imagine catching them and putting them away would be a lot more difficult.”

Shirly pulled her bottom lip between her teeth and glanced back at the file. “I read the police report while you and Finch were talking.”

Of course she did. A lead ball settled in Bart’s gut. Leave it to Shirly to work over cocktails.

“He seemed completely stable to me, Bart. He sounded smart. Really smart. I mean, God, I hope I’m half that sharp at his age. But the deal he tried to make…” Her voice fell away to a whisper. “He’d plead guilty to all charges? So long as the sword went back to the monastery? Why didn’t Finch take it?”

Bart’s left eyebrow twitched. Certain items always had a strange way of showing up in Finch’s office. Marked as evidence, displayed in glass cases. Despite the law. “I think you know why.”

“Ahh, yes. Finch’s trophy room.” Shirly rolled her eyes. “I should have guessed. Has anyone looked into that?”

Bart cleared his throat. It was all falling apart. “Look, it doesn’t pay to bite the hand that feeds.” He kissed the side of her neck, a last-ditch effort to recapture the moment. “Can we please worry about it tomorrow? I just made prosecutor. Under Finch. You know what that means? If we play our cards right, you could be married to a United States Senator inside of ten years. This is a time to celebrate.”

But she didn’t react. Didn’t even look up. “You’re Catholic. What do you know about St. Anthony?”

“Not much. He was supposed to be the patron saint of priests and travelers, I think?” Bart’s eyes followed her gaze to the file. To the photo of a bloody, tarnished sword. Aside from the blood, and the strange markings etched into the blade, it was just a sword. Brass guard, wood handle, big brass knob at the end. A little too intact for a relic, he thought, but he wasn’t exactly an expert either. “I don’t know. Grandma was Catholic not me. I haven’t been to Mass since she died, what? Twenty years ago?”

“Hmm…” Shirly’s eyes narrowed. “Why don’t you go ahead and get some sleep? There are a few things I want to look into.”

Bart’s shoulders slumped. “Okay.” There was no point arguing. “Just remember you need sleep too.”

Blinking, she pulled her attention from the file. “No, I don’t,” She kissed his cheek, slipped out of his embrace, and took the photograph of the sword from the file. “I need answers.”

* * * * * *

Don’t Stop Believing played softly in the dark. Bart rubbed his eyes, glanced over at the alarm clock radio sitting on the nightstand and groaned. Five thirty. He slapped the top of the radio and the song stopped. Getting an early start sounded like a great idea last night, but now? After a late night, and a series of strange dreams of being back in school, alone, yet somehow keenly aware of being watched by someone just out of sight. Not so much.

“Good morning.” Bart rolled over, but Shirly wasn’t there. Groaning, he threw back the covers, slid his feet into his slippers and stumbled to the closet for his robe. He opened the door, fumbled for the light switch, and noticed Shirly’s pink robe still hanging on the door beside his blue.

Bart shook his head. So, it was going to be one of those cases. Kramer vs. Elroy all over again. He sighed, took his robe from the hanger, pushed his arms into the sleeves, and slumped down to the kitchen. Shirly needed justice. It was a hunger that swam through her blood like spawning salmon. It always had been. That’s why she became a lawyer. She needed it. Needed to stamp out injustice wherever she found it. And she was like a bloodhound. Smelled hidden facts and motives a mile away.

The plaintiff, Kramer, was the widow of a former employee of the Elroys. Her husband broke into the Elroy’s estate by smashing a window, he slit his wrist on the glass when he reached through to open the door, and bled to death at the scene.

Or so the police report claimed.

Shirly took one look at the file, threw it aside, and did her own investigation. It became an all-consuming passion. Weeks passed. She barely slept, almost never ate, but eventually uncovered a connection. Kramer, she discovered, had been having a secret affair with Mrs. Elroy. Mr. Elroy fired Kramer when he found out, but given the reputation of the Elroys, and their political ties, wanted to keep the tawdry details hidden.

Kramer had other plans.

Shirly was the one who uncovered the photos in a deleted folder on Kramer’s laptop. Deleted, but not gone, and kinky enough to end Elroy’s standing permanently. After that, everything fell into place. The blackmail. The murder. The coverup that sent shockwaves through the police force, the state house, and even managed to grab the attention of the national media. For a few days, anyway.

It was only after the Elroys, Chief of police, three detectives, and two lieutenants were charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder, only after justice was served, was she able to go back to normal.

But despite what people think, nobody really wants justice. Or the truth. Kramer’s widow wasn’t happy to learn of the affair, the Elroy’s obviously weren’t happy, and being members of the elite, their political allies attacked from all sides.

The fallout went on for years. Bart and Shirly’s mortgage mysteriously foreclosed. Their credit cards were denied, and most of their clients turned cold and vanished into the woodwork.

If it wasn’t for Finch’s buyout and intervention, Bart and Shirly probably would have been disbarred.

Bart flicked on the light, and glanced at the counter to find the coffee maker exactly how it was yesterday. Still empty. Still clean. He winced and shuffled over to the cabinet for a filter. She hadn’t stopped all night. Not even for coffee.

He pressed the filter into the machine, scooped in a couple of spoonfuls of grounds, and dumped in a pot full of water. The scent alone chased the sleep from his eyes, but as he watched the coffee trickle into the pot, his shoulders slumped. No. This was going to be worse than Kramer vs. Elroy. Much worse.

* * * * * *

“The sword of St. Galgano Guidotti.” Shirly hit the enter key. A spinning wheel appeared in the center of the screen, drawing her in like a hypnotist’s pocket watch.

Her eyes burned. One search, and then to bed. That was the plan. The sword of St. Anthony. She needed to know what it was about this particular sword that made Finch turn down a confession. But the more she searched, the more questions she had.

St. Anthony’s was proving to be an enigma wrapped up in a mystery. Established in 1940, St. Anthony’s was named for their patron saint, Anthony the Great. According to her research, he was an Egyptian-born cleric who wandered out into the desert, and more or less started monasticism in the West. But he never owned a sword. His legend was all about Satan appearing in different ways and failing to tempt him to sin. In really boring medieval script.

What really got her attention was the Abby’s own account of their namesake. There were a lot of St. Anthonys, and the Abby seemed to mix them all together under St. Anthony the Great, at times calling him the patron saint of butchers and gravediggers, which fit, and at other times the patron Saint of priests and lost articles…Which was the domain of St. Anthony of Padua, of Portugal. Who never owned a sword either.

It was actually a photo that caught her eye. A beautiful fresco on their homepage, depicting St. Anthony arguing with the devil. It wasn’t the fresco itself that drew her in, but a door off to the side. Almost hidden in the background. Or more specifically, the Latin inscription carved into the stone above it, “Cavete iram Sancti Galgano omnes qui hic intrant.”

Shirly’s Latin was hardly fluent, limited only to a handful of words she still remembered from law school. But “Cavete,” beware, and “iram,” anger, those she knew, and seemed out of place. Google did the rest of the translating.

“Beware the wrath of Saint Galgano, all who enter here.”

The wheel vanished. A list of results appeared on the screen, and Shirly’s heart almost stopped. “Saint Galgano and the Sword in the Stone,” she mumbled under her breath. “The real-life Italian tale of Arthur and Excalibur.”

She clicked on the link at the top of the page. It said St. Galgano was a knight, born of a wealthy family, violent, hedonistic, and cruel. Until one day, when the Archangel Michael appeared to him, handed him his own sword, and ordered him to serve the Lord God.

She read on, the hairs on the back of her neck prickling. It was all there, the entire Arthurian legend, a sort of mirror with slight differences. A round temple “Rotonda di Montesiepi,” instead of a round table, to serve as his staging point for Holy Quests. And it was at this chapel, in the courtyard, he thrust his sword into the stone.

“Excalibur.” Her nose twitched. That would definitely perk Finch’s interest. But that was an English legend. Galgano was Italian. “It couldn’t be the same…”  Her eyes flashed down the screen, to the picture of a rusted sword poking out of a boulder, and read: “By visiting Montesiepi Chapel, You’ll not only experience Tuscany’s Arthurian legend, but also discover some funny anecdotes regarding those who tried to remove the sword, or harm Saint Galgano. Including the mummified hands of a would be assassin.”

Shirly drummed her fingers on the side of the screen. Okay, so St. Galgano had a sword, but that had nothing to do with St. Anthony. Any of them. “What is your name doing in St. Anthony’s, Galgano?”

“Beware the wrath of Saint Galgano, all who enter here.” The words haunted her. “Why here? Why the warning?” It didn’t make sense.

Her gaze flicked to the notepad beside the keyboard, to her growing handwritten list of facts. One of them, that Saint Anthony’s was established in 1940.  She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. “During World War Two…”

A knock at the door sent shockwaves down her spine, shattering her concentration.

“Honey?” Bart called.

Her jaw tensed. It never failed. She’d just get focused and he’d have to check in. Every. Single. Time. “I’ll be in bed soon.” She glanced at the clock in the corner of the screen. Six o four A.M. She pushed back from the desk with a huff. Time was ridiculous. It was like it was designed to keep people from making progress.

“You want some coffee?” Bart asked, sneaking in through the door.

Shirly rubbed her eyes. “Yeah, I think I better. Thanks, Honey.”

Bart handed her a large orange mug and sat down on the corner of her desk.  “You taking the day off?”

“Hardly,” Shirly coughed out a laugh. “I’m just not sure if I should keep digging or head over to the Abby.” She cradled the mug between her hands, studying his reaction as she drank in its warmth, the way his lips tightened. The tiny twitch of his cheek. “You don’t want me digging into this, do you?”

Bart shrugged. “If you say there’s something wrong, I believe you. You’re the investigative attorney here, not me.”

“But?” Shirly took a sip. She could tell by his tone there was a but coming.

“But,” Bart sighed. “I’ll be lucky to get up to speed before trial. There’s just no time for-”

“No,” Shirly said, cutting him off.  That wasn’t it. Finch wanted the sword. She was sure of it. He wouldn’t have risked losing it over a rushed prosecution. Like he told Bart earlier, it had to be a sure thing.  “You’re worried about your career.”

Bart rubbed the side of his mug, refusing to meet her gaze. “Look, we haven’t been back on our feet that long. I just don’t think it’s a great idea to go poking our benefactor in the eye right now.”

Shirly sat back in her chair. “So we should just let Finch have his trophy, and damn everything else? What if it was a setup? What if that monk is completely innocent? Because there’s a lot of reasonable doubt in my mind, I don’t care what the police say. Should we just let him die? Because you know that is what’s going to happen. He may not get death, but he’ll die in prison.” Her eyes narrowed. He took an oath. They both did. To uphold the Constitution of the United States, to faithfully discharge their duties of the office of attorney, and to conduct themselves with integrity and civility. “Could you live with that?”

Bart sipped his coffee, swallowed, and lowered his mug to his knees. “You know I couldn’t. I just…” He took a deep breath. “I’m just not sure he’s innocent. Maybe once I look over the file, I don’t know, but…” His strength seemed to falter. “Finch can be a bit of a… well, and he’s every bit as connected as Elroy was, maybe more so.” His voice trailed away.

Elroy. So that’s what he was worried about. Shirly’s mouth went dry. They’d lost the house, the car, the practice.  And very nearly each other. She licked the coffee from her lips and set the mug down on the desk. She couldn’t do that to him. Not ever again. But she couldn’t let this go either. “I’ll tell you what. You get ready for trial. I’ll head over to St. Anthony’s and ask a few questions. And I promise, I won’t bother you, or even breathe a word of this, unless I find something pretty hinky. Okay?”

Bart gave her a tired-looking smile and slid off the desk. “Thanks, Hon. I’m gonna go get dressed.” He glanced down at the tiny little cocktail dress she still wore. “If you’re headed to the monastery, you better do the same.”

* * * * * *

A bagel and cream cheese later, Bart settled down into his favorite chair and opened the file. A severed head, lying on its cheek stared back at him with opaque, unfocused eyes. Wincing, he took the entire stack of photos and laid them on the coffee table. They’d make a compelling emotional case for the Jury, but did nothing to actually prove anything. He flipped through the file, to the old monk’s mug shot and his heart sank. Between the cataracts, the thin white hair clinging to the old man’s scalp, and his slight, bony shoulders, Brother Andreus Huber didn’t look old. He looked ancient.

Bart flipped back to the description of the murder weapon. A Crusader sword. It measured one hundred and sixty centimeters long. The blade, one hundred and thirty-two, tapering from five point seven centimeters at the hilt to one point nine just before the tip. Weighing two point seven kilograms.

Bart pinched his nose as he did the math, that would make the sword… five and a half feet long, and right at six pounds. Pretty big, and about as heavy as a sledgehammer.

Bart flipped back to the mugshot. Andreus was one hundred and sixty-five centimeters tall, weighing in at forty kilograms. Only five foot five. Ninety pounds.

Jaw clenched, Bart reached for the photos. Severed limbs flashed before his eyes, flayed ribcages, entrails…

Bart’s head throbbed. This was not going to be the slam dunk case he was promised. He doubted the old man could even lift the sword, let alone hack five people to bits.

No wonder Alice quit. The yelling match between her and Finch didn’t have anything to do with her archaic files. She couldn’t win this. No one could. Shirly was right. It was a setup. For him. But Why? Finch always seemed to like him well enough.

Shirly. The thought plowed through his mind like a runaway train. If she caught wind of this…

Grabbing his phone, Bart tapped the screen, moaned, “Call Finch,” and jammed the pictures and papers back into the folder. This wasn’t his case. It was Alice’s. And by God he wasn’t going to hang for it.

Closing the file, he tossed it to the table. A little yellow square of paper fluttered to the floor. Bart’s phone chimed, “Dialing Finch.” He bent down, pinched the scrap between his thumb and forefinger, and lifted it from the floor. Alice’s looping handwriting was scrawled across one entire side. Two sentences, underlined three times. A note to herself. “Look into Finch’s payoff to Douglass Stillwater. Possible Jury tampering?”

Finch’s voice echoed in his ears. “Can’t lose, M’boy! I guarantee it.”

Bart’s stomach lurched. Finch wouldn’t go that far. Not for a stupid sword.

But another memory pressed in on him. After the buyout. Finch sitting across the desk, his face framed by a pair of Glock pistols displayed under glass domes, his hands folded, peering into Bart’s eyes as if he could read his mind.

“The justice system has nothing to do with justice,” Finch told him.  “It’s about reaching a satisfactory end. Nothing more.” Finch leaned forward and spun one of the domes so both Glocks pointed directly at one another. “What I need is expert salespeople. Attorneys who have the guts to sway the jury. Who do what it takes to win.” He slid his hand back to his lap. “Something I know you have.”  

The ring on the other end of the phone shattered the memory.

The case was unwinnable. Finch had to know that. For whatever reason, he wanted that sword. Badly. But jury tampering?  That was a whole other level.

“Anything it takes to win.”

Dazed, Bart canceled the call.  “God. God, oh God oh God…” He couldn’t walk away. Not without making an enemy of Finch. Not without everything that happened after Kramer vs. Elroy replaying on steroids. And going through with it was unthinkable. It meant committing a felony. And even if he could square his own conscience, Shirly would never allow it to happen. Or let him get away with it.

He couldn’t breathe. It was a nightmare. A horrible nightmare with no way out. Glancing at the time, he swiped open his phone. Eight fifteen. The trial was scheduled for two. Which only left him three hours to figure out what he was going to do.

Numb, he punched in a new number. Alice. He needed to talk to Alice.

* * * * * *

Shirly flopped her briefcase onto the passenger’s seat, took out her phone, and searched for the number listed on the Abby’s homepage.

Seven o’clock. She hit the start button on the dash, and her car hummed to life. They were probably at Mass, or whatever monks did first thing in the morning. It didn’t matter. All she really wanted was to leave a message that she, the prosecuting investigator, was en route, and then turn off her phone so they couldn’t object or delay.  That was something she didn’t have time for.

She pulled out of the garage, opened the GPS on her phone, and was already halfway down the drive when the ringing stopped.

“Hello.”

“H-hello,” Shirly stumbled as she backed out onto the street and shifted the car into drive.

The voice on the other end laughed. “Hello again. This is Abbot Henry. How can I help you this blessed day?”

“The Abbot?” Shirly pulled her lip between her teeth. He sounded far too happy, given the circumstances.

“So I’ve been told. To whom do I have the pleasure?”

Shirly shook her head. “This is Shirly Templeton. Investigating attorney. I was calling to inform you that there are a few matters that needed to be cleared up before trial.”

“Oh?” The Abbot sounded genuinely intrigued.  “How can I help you Miss… may I call you Shirly?”

Blinking, she followed her phone’s directions, and headed for the interstate. This was not the tone she was expecting. But, if he wanted to be cordial, that could work in her favor. “Shirly will be fine.”

“And what can I do for you today, Shirly?”

“I’m…” Shirly caught herself. The whole reason for going out there was presence. It was too easy to lie, or brush people off over the phone. She needed to see him. To feel him out. To watch his reactions as she asked her questions.  “That would be best discussed in person. We’re running short on time, but when will you be available?”

“Well, we’ve had morning prayer, breakfast, and Mass. I’ll be leading meditation, and tending to the duty roster for next week.” Abbot Henry laughed. “Our life is a simple one. Everything has its time, but nothing is set in stone. Perhaps you should tell me when you plan to arrive instead.”

Shirly glanced at the GPS on her phone. “Forty-five minutes.”

“Well and good,” the Abbot replied. “I’ll be waiting. Drive safe, Shirly. I’m looking forward to meeting you.”

Shirly’s fingers tingled. “Goodbye.” She tapped end call, not really sure what to feel. If he’d tried to stonewall her, or sounded distraught, or even concerned, that would have been better. But this, she had no idea how to process. It was like today was just another day. Nothing happening. No trial. No elderly brother going to prison for murder. Nothing. Just an unexpected visit with an old friend.

It didn’t make sense. And she’d been around long enough to know that when something didn’t make sense, it meant she didn’t have all the facts.

“Damn it…” She slammed her finger against the screen at the center of the dash, and tapped on the first song on her playlist, Thunderstruck. But as the high-pitched riff poured from the speakers, Shirly groaned. She did it again. Got focused in on one detail, the sword, and lost sight of everything else.  Didn’t even look at the rest of the case. It was idiotic, and no amount of AC/DC was going to change that.

As the miles rolled by, Shirly ran through every reason she could think of for the Abbot’s reaction.

A feud between him and Brother Andreus. He was happy the old monk was gone… no. The initiate’s family came to stop him from joining the order, so Abbot Henry had them all murdered. Andreus was the fall guy. Unlikely.

Without paying attention, she followed her phone’s prompt, and exited onto a two-lane road alongside a meandering creek.

 Maybe it was a warning. A way to ensure the initiate’s loyalty to the order. 

She made a mental note to check and see if any other initiates had loved ones die or vanish when they joined the order. But as she rounded the next bend, already dismissed the idea as sleep deprivation.

The sign for St. Anthony’s rose out of the brush.

“But why does Finch want that sword so badly?” She yawned, flicked on her blinker, and rolled up next to the sign.

Ducking her head, Shirly peeked up through the windshield, at an ornate red brick spire rising out of the forest. “Good God.” Judging by the chapel’s spire, by the stone gargoyles perched along the edge of the roof, St. Anthony’s looked like something out of an Agatha Christie novel, or that board game she used to play as a kid. A long way from the suburban McMansions she was accustomed to.  “Brother Andreus did it in the library with the sword,” she snorted, and continued up the driveway. It figured that her first old-world, storybook mystery would be a rush job.

The forest seemed to close in around her, green with the first leaves of spring, but not yet in full leaf. Her fingers drummed on the edge of the steering wheel as she stared out into the trees. Dogwoods and Redbuds painted the understory here and there with flashes of brilliant cream and deep red. Absolutely stunning. Like driving into the picture on their homepage. But also very remote.

Shivering Shirly snatched her cappuccino from the cup holder. It couldn’t be helped. Involving the police would only slow things down. She’d have to get in contact with the defense, schedule with their office and the department. She drained the last dribbles from the bottom of the cup, and pushed it back into place. That would take days. Besides, she didn’t really even have the authority to be here. She was working on bluff and bluster, banking on the hope that the Abbot would cooperate because of her title alone. It had worked before. Sometimes, just a letter signed “Investigative Attorney” was enough to get people talking. Something any attorney worth their salt would squish in a heartbeat. Even if her questions weren’t about the trial per se. Only the murder weapon.

She snorted. “You’re way off the map on this one, Shirly.” It was a damn good thing monks weren’t lawyers. But then… What if she was wrong? The Abbot already caught her off guard, and the whole idea of monks having a homepage seemed ridiculous. She wasn’t sure why that was, exactly. Why would being a monk automatically mean being stuck in the middle ages? Robes, funny haircuts, and all.  It was silly how the idea of monastic life came with its own stereotypes.

Like the title Investigative Attorney...

The thought made her neck hair prickle. Titles carried their own baggage. Inferences that could be worn like masks, or wielded like swords.

Sprawling brick buildings replaced the trees and flowers of the forest. An almost haphazard mix of austere and ornate, highlighted by groups of monks knelt down in the gardens, or pausing to look at her as they hurried between buildings.

Shirly’s jaw clenched. There they were, robes, funny haircuts and all. She pulled into a small parking area out front of a shorter, newer-looking building, and switched off the car. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. After all, this was the site of a mass murder. The police were at least thirty minutes away. She couldn’t afford to be taken in by preconceptions. Nor could she afford to be overly aggressive. She couldn’t take anything at face value. Because out here, she was very much alone.

* * * * * *

Alice’s handwritten note, that tiny, nothing, bit of paper, weighed unnaturally heavy between Bart’s fingers as he listened to her phone ring.

Alice. Bart licked his lips, trying to remember everything he could about her. Greying red hair, always in a bun, dark blue or brown dress suits, giant silver peacock broach on her left lapel, walked with a slight limp, kept a disturbing number of pictures on her desk. All of the same cat in different outfits. Mr. Bigglesworth. As near as Bart could tell, Alice’s one, true, and only love.

Bart rubbed his eyes. He saw her almost every day, but now that he thought about it, he really didn’t know anything about her. Nothing he could use to ease into the conversation, anyway. They never talked outside of the short, sporadic greetings that cropped up occasionally, when not talking would have been even more awkward.

Like this conversation was likely to be. Bart groaned. Maybe that was for the best. To just ask her outright before he had a chance to reconsider.

“Hello, Bart,” Alice’s voice clipped so sharp, Bart almost dropped the phone. “I take it you’re the pigeon Finch saddled with that lovely bit of work, then?”

Bart sighed. Of course she’d be angry. She only stormed out of the office yesterday. “Look-”

“Ha,” Alice shouted, cutting him off. “It would be you, wouldn’t it? Young. Ambitious. Head so far up Finch’s ass I never could tell where he ended and you began.”

Bart’s grip tensed until the phone creaked in his hand. But he didn’t answer. He needed this conversation to go well. Taking a deep breath, he reminded himself that she wasn’t angry at him. She was angry at Finch. And he was just the stand-in. Bart exhaled through his nose, and forced himself to relax. This was no different than dealing with an angry client. He needed to keep his questions direct and simple, and his tone calm, no matter what, or he wouldn’t get anywhere. “I need to know. Did Finch stack the jury?”

Silence.

“Alice?”

“He put you up to this, didn’t he?” Alice gasped. “Well, you tell him I haven’t said a word to anyone. And I won’t. Just…tell them to bring back Mr. Bigglesworth. I won’t talk, I swear. He’s… he’s…” Her voice melted into a shuddering sob.

“What?” Bart’s mouth went dry. “What happened to Mr. Bigglesworth?”

“Like you don’t know!” Alice wailed.

“You mean?” Swallowing, Bart passed the phone to his other hand. “He’s holding your cat hostage?”

Her response came in nearly indecipherable heaves, but ended with what he took as, “I can’t help you.”

Bart’s chest burned. If Finch was willing to go that far, there was no telling what else he was capable of. What the consequences would be if Bart didn’t play along. “I swear, I’ll do everything I can to help you get Mr. Bigglesworth back safe. I had no idea. I was just going through the file and found your note. That’s all. I just opened it this morning.”

A sniff echoed through the phone.

“Alice, please, talk to me. I go to trial with this in a couple of hours. Everything about this case stinks. Please. I need to know what I’m walking into.”

“I-I,” Alice stuttered. “I can’t. They’ll kill him.” Her voice broke off in a long shuddering gasp that sent shivers down his spine. “He has to be so scared…”

But this was completely insane. “I don’t get it. Finch had your cat kidnapped, and stacked the jury? So what? He could hang some dumb old sword over his desk?”

“Oh come off it, Bartholomew,” Alice growled. “You saw the file. You know damn good and well that old monk didn’t murder anyone.”

Bart’s left eye twitched. “What are you saying?”

“I’m not saying anything,” Alice snapped. “Finch wants. Finch gets. And damn anyone that gets in his way.”

Finch’s voice whispered in the back of Bart’s mind. “The justice system has nothing to do with justice. It’s about reaching a satisfactory end.”

Bart’s stomach churned. “You mean, you think Finch set up the whole thing? That he had that whole family murdered? That he framed Andreus?” It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. “For a trophy?”

“Read the file.” Alice droned, her voice completely emotionless. “According to Andreus, and the Abbot, there was no initiate, despite the Abby’s records. What I think, is that anyone who can threaten a helpless kitty, is capable of anything.”

* * * * * *

Shirly brushed the wrinkles from her skirt, adjusted her sleeves, and knocked on the door. “Ugly brown tweed,” she sighed and turned around to study her surroundings. The chapel, with its gargoyles and ornate steeple, dominated the circle of buildings, flanked on one side by a more utilitarian building she took to be the dormitory, and a lower, slightly older looking building with narrow, high windows. Possibly the cafeteria, or another dormitory. Functional. Like the gardens on the far side of the parking area.

Tugging at her collar Shirly stretched her neck. She had at least a dozen suits, but this was by far the most conservative, and the least comfortable. When she pulled it out of the closet, Shirly thought she might have been going a bit overboard, but now, standing here, it really was the only choice.

A high-pitched creak pulled her attention back to the door.

“Ah.” A short, balding, heavy-set monk appeared in the doorway. “You must be Shirly.” Shirly nodded, but before she had a chance to reply, he took a deep breath, stepped out onto the walkway beside her, and closed the door. “My, what a glorious day.” He patted his palms against his chest, only then turning his smiling eyes on her. “Shall we walk in the garden?”

“Er…” But he was already off. “Okay, the Gardens it is then,” Shirly muttered, clutched the handle of her briefcase, and trotted to catch up. “Abbot-”

“Henry.” The Abbot chuckled as he folded his hands behind his back. “I simply detest titles, don’t you?” He paused beside a dogwood, took one of the flowers in his hand, and pulled it to his nose. “I confess, your call caught me a little by surprise. After all, Andreus’ trial is imminent, the outcome a forgone conclusion, a mere formality.” He gave the flower a deep sniff. “At least, according to the former prosecutor. Alice, I believe she said her name was? Pity she resigned. I rather liked her.”

“How?” Shirly bit her tongue. It didn’t matter how he knew Alice resigned. That wasn’t why she was here. “Abbot-”

“Please,” he interrupted. “Henry.”

Shirly took a deep breath. “Henry.”

He smiled, and went back to sniffing the flower.

“Forgive me.” Shirly tugged at her collar. “But Andreus, your brother monk, is going to trial in just a few hours, and you don’t seem to care.”

“On the contrary.” Henry took the blossom between his fingers and caressed the petals with his thumb. “I care a great deal.” Shirly watched him pluck the flower from the branch and spin it between his thumb and forefinger. “But you didn’t contact me to check on my emotional state. What did you want to ask?”

Shirly licked her lips. Everything about this conversation felt off. “Um,” She stumbled as she flipped up her briefcase, unlatched it and fumbled for her notepad. “The murder weapon.”

“Yes?”

Stuffing the pad between her teeth, Shirly snapped the briefcase closed, and let it swing to her side before snatching the pad from her mouth with her free hand. “Tell me about the sword.”

Henry’s lips curled to a slight smile, his gaze fixed on the flower. “What about it?”

Heat flooded Shirly’s cheeks. He was toying with her. Her eyes narrowed. Fine. If that’s how he wanted to play, so be it. “Why was Galgano’s sword here in St. Anthony’s?”

Henry’s face froze, his smile still lingered, but less fluid. More mask than genuine. “You mean the Sword of St. Anthony.”

Gotcha. “Don’t play with me, Henry. I know full well whose sword that is. And that there is no way a ninety-seven-year-old man could have done what he’s accused of. What I don’t know is why Andreus was ready to plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit. What happened, Abbot? Tell me.”

Henry glanced up from the flower in his hand. His gaze flicked back and forth between her eyes, almost as if searching for something. “I see.” He paused. His focus went back to the flower. “Did you know that Galgano, or Arthur, as you please, was known to slay men by the hundreds with that blade? Over four hundred in a single battle.”

Shirly shook her head. “No.”

“It’s true.” Henry tossed the flower aside with a deep sigh. “It was thought that those tales were legend only. Until Hitler came to power. He was obsessed with relics, you see. Anything with a mythos attached. The Bishop of Montesiepi feared Nazis would come and claim the sword for the Reich. And so, he had the sword chiseled from the rock, entrusted it to the care of a young brother Andreus, and sent him to America to establish a new order to conceal its origins and keep it far from Hitler’s grasp. Then, the Bishop commissioned a replacement be made, so that none would know.”

Goosebumps danced up Shirly’s back. “So, it is Excalibur.”

“The truth behind the legend.” Henry nodded. “But what we did not know was the nature of the sword, that the tales of carnage wrought on its edge were true, and not the result of Galgano’s skill.” He glanced up at Shirly, his brow furrowed. “It is the Archangel’s sword. Indestructible. Eternal. An instrument of justice. And just like the Archangel, it is absolute and unyielding in its purpose. It cannot long lie dormant in the face of injustice.”

“What?” Shirly’s neck hairs prickled. “What are you saying?”

“Shirly.” The Abbot licked his lips. “We have no new initiates. We have not had any new members join our ranks these last twenty years. Those men Andreus is said to have killed were thieves. They came as visitors to our halls, and we welcomed them as brothers. But as we slept, they broke into the vault we built to contain the sword’s wrath. To spare mankind its insatiable thirst for justice. The very reason Galgano thrust it into that stone. Removing it was a mistake. And Andreus was bound long ago to protect, and contain, the consequences of that error for as long as he lives. That is why he was willing to make that plea. That we may imprison it once more. That another should take up his vow. But now?” Henry sighed and shook his head. “It is in God’s hands now.”

Shirly’s nose twitched. This was beyond… anything she expected to find here. “Are you trying to tell me that the sword killed them? On its own?” Shirly’s gaze dissected his every wrinkle, scrutinized every twitch of his eye. But what she saw sent her pulse racing. He believed it. He believed every word he said. “You’re insane.” Panting she glanced over at the monks standing in the garden, leaning on their shovels and hoes, watching her. The shapes in the doors, faces in the windows. All watching her.

“No,” the Abbot laughed, drawing her attention back to him. “I assure you we are all quite sane. The world is a far stranger place than you realize.” He stretched out his arm as if to take her hand.

Shirly jerked back out of reach. “Don’t touch me,” she snarled, stealing a quick glance at the parking area only a few dozen feet away. The car. She needed to get to the car.

Henry let his hand fall to his side. “As you wish. No one here will harm you. Go, if that is your desire.”

Glancing back over her shoulder, Shirly hurried to her car. She shouldn’t have come. And certainly not alone.

Henry made no attempt to follow her, but as she reached her car, he called out, “Let us hope your husband serves justice, and not the man who sent those thieves. If not? I am truly sorry.”

Shirly’s hands trembled as she opened the door, jumped inside and clicked the lock. Tossing her briefcase on the passenger seat, she started the car and tore down the drive as fast as she could. It wasn’t until the soft whirr of pavement replaced the pop of gravel under her tires that she could breathe again. Until her heartbeat slowed, and she found her phone. “Call Bart.”

“You’ve reached Bartholomew Brown, Attorney at Law. If this is an emergency-“

Shirly wiped her eyes and hit cancel. Straight to voicemail. Bart turned off his phone, which meant one of two things, either he was already on his way, or he was still preparing and didn’t want the distraction.

Maybe that was for the best. Other than the monks were all out of their minds, she didn’t really learn anything.

What she needed was time. Time to calm down and gather her thoughts. The drive to the courthouse would give her that.

* * * * * *

Tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, Bart pushed open the courtroom door. On both sides of the aisle, spectators sat in little groups, whispering to one another. A few he knew from the office, a few more in passing. Some he didn’t recognize at all, but he knew the type by the walk, by the mannerisms. Bureaucrats, clerks hoping to elbow into a position, aspiring politicians all. Elites.

Bart shuddered. The air seemed to close in around him. Just seeing them here, after what Alice told him, made his skin crawl. This wasn’t justice. This wasn’t even a trial. It was murder. Theft and murder. Committed by those powerful enough to get away with it. To write the rules or bend them, so they always got what they wanted. Anything they wanted. Bart bit his lip, wondering how many of these spectators knew what was really happening here. How many knew what Finch had done, or even helped him set it up.

The thought pulled his gaze to the prosecutor’s side, where Bob, the intern, sat organizing his papers, preparing for the trial, and Finch seated in the gallery directly behind him.

Bart’s jaw clenched. Just seeing Finch here was enough to turn his stomach, but to have him there, directly behind him…

Taking a deep breath, Bart slumped to the front of the court. It was Elroy all over again. Only worse. He glanced at the defense. Brother Andreus’ bald head, wreathed in wispy silvery hair, and dotted with liver spots, poked out of a bright orange jumpsuit. An innocent man. Condemned to die, by people he could not oppose. His only defense, the thin, blonde lawyer beside him, barely old enough to have passed the BAR.

It was a sham. A complete and total sham.

As Bart watched, the defense attorney leaned over and whispered something in Andreus’ ear. Andreus nodded, and the young man glanced around the old monk’s head and smiled.

Pausing midstride, Bart followed his gaze to Finch, who responded with a thumb’s up, half hidden behind the back of the chair beside him.

Bart shut his eyes so he couldn’t see, so he wouldn’t have to look. His head throbbed. There was no win here. If he told the judge, his career was over. And not just his career. Finch would make him pay in every way possible. But if he went along with it… Bart shook his head. He couldn’t do that. He couldn’t live with himself, and neither could Shirly.

Opening his eyes, Bart shuffled to his seat, laid his briefcase on the table, and sat down. Bob rambled on about tactics, and what he thought the best method would be, but Bart heard none of it. Both the Judge’s entrance, and the jury being seated passed in a blur. Lost as he glared at the blade resting on the evidence table. The thing that started it all. A sword. A stupid, worthless, sword.

“Hey,” Bob hissed. “Wake up.”

“Huh?” Bart blinked.

“It’s time for you to work your magic, Maestro,” Bob smirked and nodded at the Judge.

Bart glanced at the bench just as the Judge leaned back in his chair. “We’re waiting.”

“Your Honor,” Bart pushed himself to his feet, cleared his throat, but when he opened his mouth to speak, his voice wouldn’t come.

Damn it. Damn them all. This couldn’t continue. “Permission to approach the bench.”

Squinting, the Judge waved both him and the defense attorney forward.

Bart’s heart pounded in his throat as he stepped around the table. Suicide. That’s what this was. Pure and simple. He wiped his palms dry on his pants and glanced at the sword. The cause of all his trouble. Finch’s trophy. The albatross he’d hung around Bart’s neck.

It didn’t matter. It was over now. All of it. “Your Honor,” Bart swallowed. But as he turned his attention to the Judge, the blade twitched. It flipped up onto its hilt and rose from the table, all on its own.

Bart jumped sideways, collided with the defense attorney, and fell sprawling on the floor. He flipped over transfixed by the sword. Every detail, every smell, every sound, glowed with perfect clarity… The way the Judge’s cheeks shook when he jumped to his feet. The shriek of the stenographer as the sword flew over the bench and struck the Judge in the chest. The sickening wet thud as the tip, guard, and hilt vanished into his robe.

For a moment, the Judge simply stood there, eyes wide, mouth open. Then, he coughed out a thick mass of blood, and his body crashed face down on the bench.

Panting, Bart scrambled under the table, unable to look away as the sword slashed at the woman nearest the bench as she turned and ran. Her head toppled from her shoulders, blood sprayed from her severed neck, and the jury scattered. They dove over chairs and rails, punching, screaming, clawing at anyone or anything in their way.

The sword spun like a buzzsaw when it hit the pack. Blood splattered the walls. Bits of flesh, hands, fingers, and heads fell like rain all around Bart’s table. He shut his eyes, but the screams, the horrible metallic ring of steel on bone… Bart covered his ears with his fists, but couldn’t shut out the noise. The thick gurgling gasps and heavy splatting thuds seemed to go on forever.

And then, nothing. Only a voice, his voice, screaming, begging, praying to God for it to stop. Over and over. Until at last, it too fell silent.

When it had, trembling, Bart opened his eyes. Blood dripped from the edge of the table. The upper half of a woman in a white blouse hung over the railing separating the Jury from the court, a leg in dark blue suit pants lay on the stenographer’s table beside an ear, and some bloody mass he didn’t even want to think about.

Bart swallowed hard. It wasn’t real. He had fallen asleep preparing for trial. That was it. He was still sitting in his chair at home, the file in his lap. He had to be. Barely able to breathe, Bart crawled to the edge of the table, and peeked over the top, right into Finch’s open-mouthed, vacant, face.

Bile burned Bart’s throat, and he pushed away. Finch’s head rolled onto its ear, staring at him exactly like the head in the photograph from Alice’s folder. Bart rolled onto his side, and retched.

“Aye,” A deep voice groaned, jerking Bart’s attention to the old man in an orange jumpsuit watching him from his chair. “It is indeed a terrible sight. Is it not?” Andreus lifted his arm, and glared at the blood-soaked sword in his hand. “Always, it returns to me.” He snorted. “Why? Because I am bound to it and it to me.” He let his arm drop. “Vows are… troublesome things. I am glad to see you were not tainted by injustice.” His weary-looking eyes swept the carnage all around, and his face fell. “You alone, it would seem. Excalibur would not agree, but you see, they were right, my accusers I mean. I deserve judgment. I caused all this death. Because I failed to keep the sword contained.”

Bart stumbled to his feet and stared out across the gallery, unable to think. The acid stench pressed in on him like a physical force, making him gag. Blood covered everything, it soaked into chairs, and ran down the walls in thick, chunky drips. Mangled corpses littered the chamber. Intestines hung from the overhead lighting like ropes of garland, what looked like a set of lungs laid in the center of the aisle, windpipe up. Almost as if they had been placed there as a sculpture, beside half a head. But despite the grotesque display, it was the hole in the door beyond that held his gaze. A single small opening ripped into the wood.“

“Excalibur cannot remain here.” Andreus’ matter-of-fact statement pulled Bart’s focus back to the monk. “I must insist you return it to the Monastery as quickly as you can. I will remain here and answer for my crimes, as justice demands.” He nodded at the hole in the door and a single tear rolled down his cheek. “Go. I suspect you will find the carnage was not limited to this room. If any yet live, I cannot say, but go you must. I only pray Excalibur sleeps until you arrive.”

Bart glanced down at the sword in Andreus’ hand, and his whole body shook. “No,” He panted. “I can’t. I won’t. I’m not going anywhere near that damned thing.”

Andreus opened his mouth as if to speak, then closed it again and nodded slowly. “Aye, I felt much the same when it was entrusted to me.” He lifted the sword, and tossed it onto the table. “But it was not my decision to make any more than it is yours. Excalibur spared you because it saw justice in your heart. You have been given the task of bearing it safely to its rest. If you refuse, it will simply follow you when it wakes, killing all it deems unworthy between it and you.” His gaze fell to the sword, his face twisting into a cold, hateful, scowl. “Believe me. I know. Be glad you were charged only with its return, and not its care.”

* * * * * *

Turning off the engine, Shirly glanced at the clock. Quarter after two. “Damn it.” She snatched her briefcase and climbed out of the car. Everything seemed to be against her. Needing fuel, the ridiculous traffic jam. She flattened her skirt and marched across the parking lot as fast as she could. It was fine. Fifteen minutes was nothing. Barely even enough time to seat the jury. If she was lucky, Bart had only just started his opening arguments. At least the delay had given her plenty of time to settle her thoughts and work out what she needed to say. Crazy sword story or not, the Abbot said there was no initiate, no initiate’s family to murder, and insinuated that Finch probably hired the thieves to steal the sword in the first place. That much, Shirly did believe. It didn’t exactly prove Andreus’ innocence, but warranted an investigation. A delay. Possibly a special council.

Her hand shook as she laid it on the rail and started up the ramp to the courthouse. It was going to be worse than with Elroy, that much she did know, but there was no other option. Someone had to hold Finch accountable. And Bart… Her chest ached. She still hadn’t worked out what to say to him.

Maybe it wasn’t as bad as she thought. Maybe once she told him, he’d understand. She glanced up at the door only a few feet away and groaned. It wasn’t fair. Finch was the problem. They shouldn’t have to suffer for it.

Almost before the thought passed her mind, the door almost exploded open. A man, covered in blood, staggered out, clutching something long, and wrapped in what looked like a sportscoat, to his chest.

Shirly jerked to a stop. “Bart?” She whispered. At least, he looked like Bart, but with his wild hair and panicked eyes, he seemed more like a wild animal than the man she knew. “What…you’re covered in… are you okay?”

At her voice, his eyes locked on hers. “Shirly, thank God.” He charged down the ramp, grabbed her hand, and started dragging her back toward the parking lot. “We have to, I didn’t know if I could… but you’re here, so now we can do it. Then Mexico? Switzerland? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t think we should try to fly.”

It all came in such a jumble She didn’t know what to think. “Bart you’re scaring me,” but she didn’t pull away. “What happened?”

Bart stopped, held up what he was carrying and unwound one end of his suit jacket, revealing a round brass pummel. “The angel of death.” His eyes widened, and he wrapped it closed once more. “It slaughtered…” But he choked on the next words and finished with. “We have to get it back to the Abby. We have to. Before it kills again.”

Heart pounding in her chest, Shirly nodded. There was no point arguing. Nothing to say until he was sane again. If he was ever sane again. Whatever happened, she could sort it out later. Right now, he needed her to be there. To support him. To be his wife. “Alright, Bart,” she sighed, keeping her voice low and calm. “If you want to go to the Abby, I’ll take you. You can tell me all about what happened on the way.”

He was so upset he could barely walk, so she took his hand, and helped him to the car. She didn’t talk as they drove, only listened as he tried to explain what happened in short incoherent thoughts that gradually became more fluid as his breathing slowed.

Even when he calmed enough to make perfect sense, nothing he said did. But she didn’t argue, didn’t try to ask him to explain. She simply listened. All the way to the Abby.

And when they pulled into the parking area, Abbot Henry was waiting for them. Bart stepped out and handed him the sword, but she waited in the car, unsure what to think. The blood on his clothes was real enough, something obviously happened, but a floating sword? She clicked on her phone to check the news. It had to be some kind of psychosis. His mind weaving in parts of the case he read in Alice’s file to cope with the trauma of a mass shooting or something. In any event, something like that would be on the news.

A headline rolled up the screen “Breaking News: Dozens killed by mad monk.” Shirly’s gaze flicked to the Abbot as he unwrapped the sword. She had no idea what the truth really was, but she’d find it. There was no such thing as Angelic swords.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Dirk Stevens
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Dirk Stevens


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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