The Devil’s Due
“The people of San Lucia are a proud, hard-working extended family. When Jacquelyn first arrived, perhaps because of Padre Matteo’s relationship with them, or perhaps her own simple spirit, she was accepted into their family without a thought. At the end of each work day, they pack up their tools, climb into the back of two large trucks and return to the small community that they call home. There, while those who have been working wash off the day’s dust in the small creek that snakes between their tiny homes, those who have stayed behind prepare dinner. Quite frequently you could find Jacquelyn rinsing off quickly in the clear creek waters to hurry to the community center to help with the meal preparation.
That night, Jacquelyn walked away from the trucks and strode up the path to her cabin without a word to anyone else.
From what I have been told, Padre Matteo built the cabin when he first arrived at San Lucia. It has stood there for over sixty years. When the Padre passed on from this world, he left all of it, including the lands around it to Jacquelyn. At first I had thought with his passing that she might wish to rejoin the world, to separate herself from the church that had changed her life so drastically, so many times. When I approached her about this, there was a steely confidence in her soul that choked the words out of me before I could finish them. I never once tried to convince her to leave again.
She sat up at on the hill watching the stars come out, sipping a cup of coffee, her eyes fixed on some unknown point in the distance. As I have stated, Jacquelyn took up Padre Matteo’s vocation when he died. She had learned from since her first few days in 1942 that in everything patience, prayer and contemplation were key to making decisions involving exorcisms. Due to widespread concern of abuses and the policy of the Church to disavow knowledge of such practices, Matteo taught her early on, to be careful.
Jacquelyn stayed there on the hill, looking out over the valley until just before midnight, when she tossed on her cowboy hat and trekked across the fields to Our Lady of the Pines. I was snuffing out candles in the chapel when I heard the front door open and near-silently close. It would not be the first time that Jacquelyn had come near midnight for confession.
As was her habit, she slipped into the confessional and waited for me. I had a feeling that what we were to discuss was prompted by the lawyer’s visit earlier in the day. I finished my task, walked along the cool flagstones to the confessional, and entered.
What was said inside was between myself, Sister Mary Teresa and our Lord, it is also not the time to discuss it. What does need to be said, was the conversation that followed after Jacquelyn had risen from the front pews and moved to sit down next to me at the back.
“What I do, Father, conflicts against everything that I have been taught by the Church.” She said to me.
I nodded, listening to her and gesturing for her to continue.
“At the Rose I was taught that the Church is the voice of God here on Earth, that the Pope is his representative… logically it would say that what the Pope and the Vatican decree, is God’s decree, would it not?”
I cannot tell you how many times I have wondered the same questions myself, but never had the courage to put a voice to them. Here was a woman, ten years younger than me, who did have that courage.
“That is what we are taught.” I replied.
“The Vatican decrees that… that what I do, should be done by their rules, by their priests, and definitely not by a woman.”
I nodded again, giving her my silence to continue her thought.
“But then they let men, women and… worst of all, children suffer at the hands, the claws of these… creatures. I do not know how to reconcile that God would decree them to suffer.”
“I could quote you some verses you know. One’s that you probably have committed to memory. I don’t think that’s what you want to hear. I could offer you some platitudes about how God is all-knowing and while his will is unknowable to us, we must have faith in it.”
She snorted. It’s one of those human gestures that I will always remember about her. This deep, infectious ability to laugh in the face of everything against her.
“And I’m sure you know exactly what I would say to those platitudes.”
I nodded, a small smile giving away the amusement that such conversations with her always have for me.
“So I won’t. What I will say is that man is flawed. We are not divine and because of that we can never be perfect. If we were to apply logic then to your statements with that fact, would it not stand to reason that flawed men make flawed decisions?”
She quieted and nodded. “It would.”
“The men who make up the leadership of the Vatican, all the way to the Pontiff himself, are but men, and in the way of all men, can make mistakes. It is why we have grace. For if God were to give us what we truly deserve, I dare say that this conversation would be a moot point.”
I can tell that my bare words here have shocked several of you. I would hope, for all our sake’s, that the sin of pride has not seeped beneath your robes to make you believe that you are anything but humble, flawed, imperfect men, who are prone to make mistakes. I know that I am.
We sat in silence for longer than I could tell. Somehow, there on those hard wooden pews, with the soft flickering of candles in the light breeze through the windows, everything seemed to make sense to me. Perhaps it was the solace, perhaps the Holy Spirit resting on our communion, or perhaps it was simply sitting next to Jacquelyn in a comfortable silence that brought about those feelings.
She reached over and took my hand, giving it a comforting squeeze.
“Thank you, Father. You always seem to find a way to put things in perspective.”
I shook my head. “I simply say what comes from the heart.”
She gave me a tender smile and before I could say anything else, leaned down to kiss me on the cheek.
“I’ll be back in a few days.”
She turned and strode to the rectory to use the phone in my office, the only phone in San Lucia.
From the chapel I could hear her conversation.
“Mr. Martin. Pick me up at my drive at six am. I’ll go with you.”
True to her instructions, the sleek Mercedes Benz driven by David Martin was parked at the bottom of her dirt path to the cabin, fifteen minutes prior to 6 am. He sat against the warm quarter-panel, watching the first light of the sunrise raining down over the valley as it cleared the mountains to the east. One of the small pleasures those of San Lucia enjoy is distance from the city and the effect that has on our sunrises, sunsets and night-time skies.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Jacquelyn asked.
Her words startled Mr. Martin, who quickly stood up from his thoughts and began to move to the passenger side of the vehicle. Jacquelyn waved him off.
“I don’t need your chivalrous acts, Mr. Martin. I’m a grown woman, almost forty, I can open and close my own doors.” She said climbing into the patent leather seat.
He moved back around the front of the car and climbed in.
“I was raised in a different time, you’ll forgive my upbringing.” He said as they headed out of San Lucia towards Los Angeles.
“No need to forgive, it simply is. You are who you are and I am who I am, no harm, no foul.”
Despite his desire to know more and his professional policy to know less, the three hour trip down out of the mountains to Malibu was filled with superficial conversation about the weather, growth of crops and a failed discussion of the Angel’s prospects at winning the World Series.
The Williamson Family was a prominent, wealthy clan of lawyers, editors, publicists, CEO’s and socialites. While on the surface, they displayed an engaging, respectful and interested adherence to the creeds of the Catholic Church, in truth it was mostly lip service. Perhaps that is why when Donald and Evelyn Williamson wrote to the California Arch Diocese, their request was summarily rejected. Unfortunately, Don and Evie, as they liked to be called, was the one branch of the Williamson family that clung to the Body of Christ with true faith and reverence.
It was, perhaps, why they then turned to someone outside the bureaucracy and constraints of the Church, to save their daughter Elizabeth.
At nine thirty in the morning on July the thirteen, Mr. David Martin esquire parked his Mercedes Benz in the drive of the Williamson’s Malibu estate and ushered Jacquelyn inside. The first thing she noticed as they entered, despite the warm sunlight filtering down off the mountains, was that there were no lights on. The entire estate was dark. She followed Mr. Martin into the house, her careful eyes noting everything about her.
She was led down a long corridor, through a massive kitchen, out a pair of French doors to a large deck over-looking the Pacific Ocean. There at a table draped with bright, clean white linens sat Don and Evie Williamson preparing to enjoy their breakfast. As they entered, Mr. Williamson rose from his chair to shake hands with Mr. Martin and extend his hand to Jacquelyn.
“Mr. and Mrs. Williamson, this is Jacquelyn Carmichael, she has agreed to listen to your story and offer what help she can.” He stated.
Jacquelyn stared at Martin, trying to decide if she should berate him then and there for putting words into her mouth. She decided against it when she saw Evie’s bleary, red eyes.
“Oh, thank the Lord. Ms. Carmichael, we have been completely lost in darkness.” The young woman said, a sigh of relief crossing her that made Jacquelyn consider her next words carefully.
“I am humbled to be of service, Mr. and Mrs. Williamson… please, let’s discuss your situation.”
Don escorted her to a chair, pulling it out for her as a true gentleman would. Once they were all seated around the table and Leticia, their maid, had begun pouring cups of hot, black coffee for each, did they begin to discuss the problem. Evie sat back in her chair, looking more like a ragged corpse in a beautiful, white night gown, than a young, wealthy socialite. Her husband Don did most of the talking.
“I assume that Martin told you the reason that we have asked you here today, Ms. Carmichael.” He began.
“Please, it’s Jackie, and he gave me a glimmer of an idea.”
“Very well, Jackie. It started several months ago. We had returned from trip back east visiting family and friends. It had been a long, tiring journey and despite my better judgment, I insisted that we take several days to relax and recuperate, before stepping back into Los Angeles society. That included missing Sunday mass at Our Lady of Longevity, our church here in Malibu.”
As he discussed the trip, their return and the events that followed, Jacquelyn watched not only Don, but his young wife, Evie and Mr. Martin. From their reactions to the story it was evident that the husband and wife truly believed what was being told, while Martin seemed to holding back a reserved, respectful disagreement.
“It was a week after we returned that I had to let one of our staff, Shia, go. Evie had discovered that a set of her pearl earrings were missing and they were discovered in Shia’s room. Two days after that incident, the noises began. At first we attributed it to anything and everything that might sound logical, the wind, the ocean, noise carrying down from the hills or from a neighbor’s estate. It sounded, at first, like dripping water, but soon it built to a chorus of raindrops that would appear in mid-air only to disappear when one of us would attempt to locate from where it originated. Soon after the sounds started, we would find things in odd places, places they had not been put, or simply laying on the floor, many times smashed.”
Jacquelyn watched Evie, as Don related these strange occurrences to her. The young woman seemed to have withdrawn into herself, staring out at the endless ocean water.
“We had returned home from brunch with friends at church, to relax until the evening mass one Sunday. Evie had gone to the master suite to lie down and I went to check on Elizabeth who was playing in her rooms. As I approached the base of the stairs, I found shards of glass covering the stone floor and carefully picked my way up the steps. Every picture that lined the walls had been violently ripped from their hooks and thrown down the stairway, smashed at the bottom. I called out for Elizabeth, but received no answer. It was unlike her to be quiet, I am sure you know what it’s like to be a twelve year old girl, Ms… Jackie.”
“I do, Don. Please, go on.” She said.
“The hallway was equally devastated, it was as if we’d gone through an earthquake, but I had felt nothing. I picked my way down to the end of the hall and entered Elizabeth’s room.”
There was a soft crack to his voice that Jacquelyn noticed immediately. Evie sat motionless in her chair, still staring out at the waves, as if attempting to block out what was being discussed.
“What I found in her room was beyond description. The only thing that I can relate it to is shock during a traumatic event. I once witnessed a horrific car accident that involved several vehicles and a dozen people. It happened right before my eyes and all I could do was slam on the brakes to watch as these cars slammed into each other, glass breaking, steel bending, people being crumpled inside. The inside of Elizabeth’s room looked like that, a horrific accident. What caught my eye first was what appeared to be a large crack running from above the headboard of her bed down along the wallpaper to the opposite wall. I thought again that perhaps there had been an earthquake, but then I realized that it wasn’t a crack.
When we had decorated her room, Elizabeth had asked that we hang a crucifix above her bed to keep her safe at night. Like all parents, we did as she asked to give her peace of mind through the night. It had been hung on her wall, several feet above the top of the headboard with a good, stout nail into the stud. What I was seeing wasn’t a crack, it was a scar in the dry wall from someone, something… ripping that crucifix from the wall.”
Jacquelyn sat in her chair, elbows resting on the table, fingers interlaced together as she listened. Her coffee now cold as ice in the cup before her.
“Please, go on.” Was all she said.
“It was a shock, you can imagine, but it was one sign in a roomful of them. As I took it all in the from the threshold of her room, the final image that is still etched into my mind to this day is of Elizabeth herself. As everything solidified into one image of destruction, I saw my little girl…”
The words caught in the man’s throat and he took at sip of the cold coffee to steady himself before continuing.
“I saw my little girl… floating in the air, three feet off her bed. Before I could do anything the door, of its’ own volition slammed in my face.”
On the deck, looking out over the Pacific Ocean, The Williamson’s, Jacquelyn and Mr. Martin sat in silence for a long time, taking in what had been said.
They stood in the driveway next to Martin’s Mercedes Benz. The sun had long since risen over the mountains, traveled across the sky and was threatening to plunge into the dark, blue waters of the Pacific to blanket the world in darkness. David Martin esquire took a long draw on the cigarette he had just lit. Jacquelyn reached out, her hand wordlessly asking for him to hand it over. He did.
She stuffed the cigarette into her mouth and breathed in the scorching smoke from the burning tobacco.
“You don’t believe a word they are saying.” She stated, returning it to him.
“Nope.” He answered. “I believe, as a psychologist would say, that they believe. That is after all, my job as an attorney, to believe that my client believes. But if you ask me, God, the Devil, demons, possession.. none of its real.”
Jacquelyn nodded, listening to him talk. “And if you saw it first hand?”
He shook his head. “Despite what you may think about me, Jackie, it doesn’t matter what kind of evidence you can offer, I simply do not and would not believe. There is always a reasonable, logical explanation for things like this. Chalk it up to hysteria, bad bit of sausage with breakfast, or gas from the tar pits that sit beneath most of these homes, Mr. Williamson may believe what he saw, but it’s not what he thinks.”
She nodded, stretching out her hand to demand another drag of his cigarette.
“I’ll be fine here. I’m going to need to stay for at least a week. I am sure the Williamson’s will call you when I am finished.” She said.
It was his turn to nod, politely at her words. “Just do me one favor, Jackie.” He said, turning to look her in the eyes. “That’s a little girl up there, one that doesn’t have the chance to say anything in her own defense.”
“I understand that, David.”
“Don’t hurt her.” This time the emotion in his voice touched his eyes and Jacquelyn could see the sincerity that lay there.
“You have my word.”
He took at last puff on the cigarette, handed it to her and then got in his car and left the estate. She stood on the steps, watching him drive away and finishing it, before turning to head back into the house to see if she could save Elizabeth Williamson.