Wednesday 10 July 2024

One of our Novices is Missing by Maxine Flam, wine


‘Hey Joe, you think Shelly came in early and she made us a pot of coffee, huh?’ said Kelby as they dragged into the squad room.

            ‘I certainly hope so. I can use some fresh hot coffee after that mud we’ve been drinking on that stakeout but there are three other things I want more: A long hot shower, a large breakfast with eggs, potatoes, bacon, and toast, and a warm bed to sleep in for at least twelve hours,’ replied Miller.

            Overhearing the boys talking, Captain Reno shouted, ‘Sorry boys, except for coffee and some left over donuts, the sleeping will have to wait.’

            ‘Aw, come on Captain,’ whined Miller. ‘We just got back from three days trailing that murder suspect up to the high desert. We haven’t even finished the paperwork yet. And you’re giving us another assignment?’

            ‘I have no choice. The other teams are out and I have something that came in marked urgent. It’s a missing person’s case…but before you say that’s not your department, it came from the top man himself….You’ll have time to go home, shower, and change, but you need to step in my office to be briefed…now!’

            Miller and Kelby stopped eating the hard, stale donuts left over from Friday morning and went into Captain Reno’s office.

            ‘Mother Superior, I’d like you to meet Detectives Joe Miller and Bill Kelby.’

            Mother Superior put her hand out to shake each of their hands and they did the likewise.

            ‘What can we do for you…Mother?’ said Bill hesitantly.

            ‘One of my novices is missing. Her name is Suzanna Tompkins. She was set to take her final vows Saturday and didn’t show up with the rest of the class. I checked the sleeping quarters, chapel, church, and the rest of the grounds but she wasn’t any where to be found.’

            ‘Maybe she got cold feet and went home to her family,’ replied Kelby.

            ‘Her mother and stepfather were at the ceremony and were as surprised as the rest of us to see she wasn’t there. They were there for the ceremony.’

            ‘Was everyone in the family happy that she was becoming a nun?’ asked Miller.

            ‘Her father didn’t like it all.’

            ‘Did he make his objections known?’ asked Kelby.

            ‘Oh, yes. He came to the church Friday morning and asked if Suzanna was still going through with it and then begged her not to. He told her she didn’t understand all the ramifications of giving her life to the church. Never marrying, never having children. He wanted her to wait and think about it some more. I understand he spent a great deal of time talking to her. She had been a postulate and novice for the given amount of time. Of all the women, she was one of the most focused on the charitable nature of the church. She loved working with children. She even worked with runaways helping to reunite them with their families after getting them counseling.’

            ‘This lady sounds like she has a big heart. Is there anyone else who could have been against her taking her final vows?’ asked Kelby.

            ‘Well, before she came to the church, she was a troubled girl. The church gave her structure. She had been seeing a young man who said he was madly in love with her and if he couldn’t have her, no one else could.’

            ‘So, now we have two suspects. Her father and her ex-boyfriend. Anyone else?’ asked Miller.

            ‘Not really. You know some of the girls were jealous but that’s normal.’

            ‘Mother Superior, you’ve given us a place to start. Do you have a recent picture of her?’ asked Kelby.

            ‘I don’t have one in her novice attire but her mother gave me this photo that was taken in her regular clothes when she visited with her before she disappeared.’

            ‘So this photo was taken on Friday?’ asked Miller.

            ‘Yes, it’s a Polaroid but it’s a good quality picture of her.’

            ‘Thank you Mother Superior. Should we have any further questions, leave your phone number with Captain Reno and we’ll get back to you if or when we get any information.’

            ‘Bless you both. I’ll be praying that you find her soon.’


            ‘As I see it there are only two possibilities,’ said Miller.

            ‘And they are?’

            ‘She left willingly or she didn’t.’

            ‘Brilliant. You thought that up all by yourself,’ replied Kelby.

            Ignoring the remark, Miller continued, ‘If she left on her own volition, then maybe she returned to her old boyfriend's place or to her father’s house.’

            ‘And if not?’

            ‘Then we have problems, partner, because it could be foul play and maybe, and I don’t want to even think this is a possibility, she was kidnapped or even killed.’

            ‘Who would want to kidnap a novice nun?’ asked Kelby.

            ‘It goes back to the father and the ex-boyfriend wanting to prevent her from taking her final vows. The jealousy with the other nuns has to be checked out but I think that’s a dead end.’

            ‘There could be a third option.’

            ‘Which is?’ asked Miller.

            ‘She simply left. She couldn’t stand the pressure and needed time to think. So she went somewhere to get her head on straight.’

            ‘If that’s true, where would she go? I’ll drop you off at your home to shower, put on fresh clothes, and grab some breakfast. Then we’ll go over to the church and take a look at her living quarters. We can talk to some of the other novices. Maybe we’ll get lucky, and one of them knows something and hasn’t said anything because she doesn’t know that she knows.’

            ‘You want to run that by me again…never mind. I’ll see you in ninety minutes,’ said Kelby.


            The detectives arrived at the church after morning prayers had ended. They walked in the back of the church feeling like fish out of water as neither one had been to church since they were children. Kelby attended a Catholic grammar school but that was twenty-five years ago. He felt a little guilty walking in so he went to the altar, knelt, and made the sign of the cross. Miller stood there waiting patiently for him. Father Johnson approached.

            ‘You must be the detectives that the Mother Superior told me about,’ he said.

            ‘Yes, Father…’ said Kelby. ‘We’re here to see if we can figure out what happened to Suzanna Tompkins.’

‘Everyone here will give you their utmost cooperation. Where do you want to go first?’

‘We’d like to walk around the church grounds, take a look at her room, and see if we can come up with anything,’ said Miller.

‘Yes, of course. I’ll have one of the sisters show you around.’

‘Thank you, Father,’ replied Miller.

Father Johnson walked off and Kelby turned to Miller and said, ‘I don’t have a good feeling about him.’

‘He seemed nice enough’ said Miller. ‘Why? You think he’s involved?’

‘Yeah, I do…in some way. I just don’t know how yet. He seemed like he was purposely detaching himself from the situation,’ responded Kelby.

‘I think you’re jumping to conclusions. You haven’t been to church in years. You felt awkward around Mother Superior and now you come in here, you go to the altar; kneel, cross yourself, and meet the priest. Just what do you think he’s done? I can’t believe I’m saying this but you have nothing to go on.’

‘Only my gut…We need to interview the novices who just became nuns. I know there's something here. I feel it.’

‘Feel what? I think you’re nuts.’ said Miller.

‘Could be other novices left the church like Suzanna because of something the Father did?’ replied Kelby.

‘I think you’re way off base but we need to check out all the angles,’ said Miller.

‘I’m telling you Joe, I got a bad feeling about him.’

‘We’ll investigate the priest along with her dad and ex-boyfriend.’

‘Let’s get going.’


            They entered the nun’s quarters and asked to speak to some of the girls that just graduated.

            ‘Any of you have an inkling why Suzanna left?’ asked Miller.

            ‘No,’ responded Sister Margaret. ‘But she seemed to be struggling with something the day before taking her final vows.’

‘That would be Friday,’ said Miller.’

‘Yes, I saw her in the chapel praying. Father Johnson came in. They had words, at which time; she got up from kneeling and ran off.’

            ‘For no reason?’ asked Kelby.

            ‘Yes, and that seemed odd.’

            ‘Thank you Sister Margaret,’ responded Kelby.


            Miller turned to Kelby and said. ‘You may have something here. Maybe we now need to speak to her father, mother, and the Priest.’

            ‘What about the ex-boyfriend?’

            ‘We’ll save him for last. Maybe the parents know what’s going on. Let’s start with her mother. Perhaps she confided to her.’


            Ding dong.


            ‘Detectives Kelby and Miller, Mrs. Hedford?’ said Kelby as they showed their badges.    


            ‘Can we come in?’

            ‘Of course.’

            ‘We need to ask you a few questions,’ stated Miller.


            ‘No, thank you. We need to clarify something so we have some questions to ask you. As you are her mother,  did he confide in you? We’re not sure we know how to ask this but before you came to the ceremony Saturday, did you spend some time with Suzanna on Friday? We know you took pictures. Did she say anything to you? Also, did you know Father Johnson had words with her? Did you know him from before or had you just met?’ asked Kelby.

            ‘Why do you ask?’

            ‘Because of something one of the novices told us. It seems on Friday, he had a conversation that upset Suzanna and she ran from the church,’ said Miller.

            ‘I don’t think…that’s any of your business.’

            ‘Anything that is related to the disappearance of your daughter or this case is our business.’ said Miller.

            ‘It’s hard for me to discuss this.’

            ‘We need a lead to go on. Just say what you have to say,’ replied Kelby.

            ‘This is extremely personal. Twenty-five years ago, I was a teenager attending St. Joseph’s church on the other side of the Valley with my parents and little brother… I was a very impressionable young woman with a crush on a young priest.’

            Bill shoots Joe a look of I told you so.

            ‘He was handsome and charismatic. I joined the choir and tried my best to get him to notice me. He finally did. We…we made love and I got pregnant. My mother sent me to home for unwed mothers run by the nuns at another parish. I was allowed to keep my baby if I finished high school. Eventually I married but the marriage didn’t work out. My first husband wasn’t ready to be a father to someone else’s kid. A few years later I met a wonderful man, married him, and he adopted Suzanna as his own.’

            ‘So let me get this straight. The man who Suzanna thinks is her father isn’t and the man who adopted her is her step-father.  So doesn’t know who her real dad is?’ replied Kelby.

            ‘Not quite. She found out Friday that her real father was Father Johnson…Dear Lord, when I saw her, she was so distraught.’

            ‘Who told her?’ asked Miller.

            ‘He did.’

            ‘That must have been why she ran from the church but why after all these years, did he tell her now?’ asked Kelby.

            ‘That’s the question I’ve asked myself. I don’t know why he would do that unless his secret was about to come out and he wanted to beat the person who knew to the punch. I don’t know. I keep thinking he was being blackmailed.’

            ‘Have you talked to Father Johnson?’ asked Miller.

            ‘No, I’ve kept my distance since…all those years ago and finding out I was pregnant with his child.’

            ‘Who could have found out the secret?’ wondered Kelby.

            ‘If you had the baby at a home for unwed mothers run by the church, the documents are sealed but they are still there. Someone must have gotten a hold of them and decided to blackmail the priest. But for what reason, convincing Suzanna not to be a nun? Money?...So Father Johnson told her first,’ said Miller.

            ‘But why would Suzanna run off,’ questioned Kelby.

‘She couldn’t handle the truth…It makes sense if you know that Suzanne grew up at St. Joseph’s until we moved away and then she went to be a postulate and novice at St. Charles Church. Father Johnson moved over to St. Charles after she did to look out for her as if she were his own because she was his own, said her mother.’

            ‘The sixty-four dollar question is where did she go?’ asked Miller.

‘What if she went into hiding? She didn’t run off because she didn’t have anywhere to run,’ said Kelby.

‘We still didn’t talk to the ex-boyfriend or the first husband.’

‘Let’s go talk to the ex-boyfriend.’


            Ring, Ring….Knock, Knock. No answer.

            ‘Bill, I hear someone moving around inside.’

            Knock Knock. ‘This is Detectives Miller and Kelby…We just want to talk to you. Please answer the door,’ said Miller.

            ‘Leave me alone,’ replied a male voice.

            ‘No one is going to hurt you…Open up,’ stated Kelby.

            Gun shots rang out and three bullets hit the door.

            Speaking into his walkie-talkie, Bill said, ‘This is Detective Kelby, we need back-up now at 1587 Chestnut Drive.’

            Joe and Bill drew their guns. Bill covered Joe as he kicked down the door.

            ‘I swear I’ll kill her,’ said the boyfriend holding Suzanna around the waist with a gun to her head.

            ‘We just want to talk…No reason for anyone to get killed,’ said Miller.

            The back-up arrived.

            ‘Come on, put the gun down so we can talk,’ asked Kelby.

            ‘You’re going to arrest me for missing my meeting with my parole officer.’

            ‘Not even close. We’re investigating the disappearance of your ex-girlfriend. Is this her?’ Kelby said.


            ‘Put the gun down and let’s talk…What’s your name?’ asked Miller.


            ‘Okay, Frank. Toss the gun over here,’ said Kelby.

            Looking at both detectives, he threw the gun over to the detectives and released Suzanna, and said, ‘I’m sorry.’

            ‘You’re going to have to go to the station for having a gun on parole and shooting it at police officers among other charges,’ said Miller.

            ‘Suzanna, why are you here?’ asked Kelby.

            ‘Frank came and got me after I called him. I had just heard that Father Johnson was my birth father and I was beside myself. I couldn’t think. I only knew I had to get away from the church.’

            ‘Did Father Johnson tell you why he suddenly decided now to tell you?’ asked Kelby.

            ‘Yes, and I went nuts. It seems that my mother wasn’t the only woman he had sex with. There were two other women and they had babies that are near my age. My mother’s first husband found out and began blackmailing him. He wanted Father Johnson to tell me the truth before I took my final vows.’

            ‘Do you know who these other women were?’

            ‘One of them was my mother,’ said Frank. My little brother is Father Johnson’s son too.’

‘I also have a sister but I don’t know who she is. It was all too much to process. I had to get away. I’m sorry I worried everyone but everything I worked so hard for had gone up in smoke.’

            ‘It doesn’t mean you can’t be a nun. You just need to put some distance between you and him. You can go to another parish if you still decide you want to dedicate your life to the Lord,’ said Kelby.

            ‘I do. That hasn’t changed. But I need to forgive my mother and my…birth father. I don’t know if I can.’

            ‘You need to look deep into your heart, take some time, and see if you can do that because if you can’t, you won’t be able to take your final vows,’ replied Kelby.

            ‘Thank you…Detective Kelby?’ said Suzanna.


‘How did you become so wise?’

‘Life…life and being a cop for the past seven years.’

‘God bless both of you.’

‘Are you going to go back to your mother’s house to think?’

‘No, I can’t. I’m going to talk to the Mother Superior and ask her if I can go one of the retreat houses to pray and decide what to do and where to go.’

‘What are you going to tell Mother Superior?’ asked Miller.

‘The truth. I should have told her that in the beginning and saved everyone the hassle. Whatever happens to Father Johnson is his problem. He brought it on himself. I have to deal with the ramifications of my mother and his affair with her and with the two other women and so does he.’

‘Do the other children know he’s their father?’ asked Kelby.

‘No. He needs to do the right thing and tell them. Then he needs to take whatever punishment the church meters out.’

‘But whatever the punishment is, you need to find it in your heart to forgive him,’ said Kelby.

‘I will but I need time.’

‘We’ll close out the case and tell Mother Superior you’re okay. You realize your mother’s first husband will be charged with blackmail,’ replied Miller.

‘He brought that on himself too. He could have left sleeping dogs lie but instead he messed up the lives of three families and a beloved priest.’

‘Good luck, Suzanna,’ said Detectives Miller and Kelby.

‘Good-bye, and thank you.’

Turning to Suzanna’s boyfriend, Miller began, ‘Alright, you have the right to remain silent…if you give up your right, anything you say will be used against you in a court of law….’


About the author 

Since becoming disabled in 2015, Maxine took up her passion for writing. She has been published several times in the Los Angeles Daily News, The Epoch Times, Nail Polish Stories, DarkWinterLit, BrightFlashLiteraryReview, OtherwiseEngagedLit, CafeLit, Maudlin House, and

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