on that, Father. But thank you.”
O’Neil shook hands with them again and said to Puller, “I wish you luck in your search.”
Outside, Knox said, “Okay, why do I feel like I need to say a hundred Hail Marys?”
“Confession might’ve cleared your soul.”
She lightly punched him in the arm. “So, on to Williamsburg?”
“On to Williamsburg. But I need to call them first.”
Puller made the call as they sat in the front seat of the Malibu. “The Clarks know we’re coming, and Father Rooney will be ready to talk to us,” he said once he was finished.
“How old is he now?”
“They said eighty,” replied Puller.
“Is he in full possession of his faculties?”
“Apparently enough to talk to us.”
“Have you seen your dad lately?”
“I was seeing my dad when Hull and a colonel showed up with the letter from my father’s accuser.”
“That must have been tough,” she said.
“Not something I’d want to go through every day.”
“Does your dad—?”
“Thankfully, he doesn’t know anything. And for the first time I’m thinking that’s a good thing.”
“Did you speak to Lynda Demirjian?”
“First on my list. I spoke to her husband, Stan, too. He doesn’t agree with her.”
“But he served under your father.”
“I know. He’s not totally unbiased.”
“What are you hoping to get from Rooney?” Knox asked
“Whether my mother was going to see him that night. She was dressed like she would for Mass.”
“She might have been going out.”
“She might have been. But if so, she probably would have mentioned it to the babysitter, and she didn’t. I talked to her too.”
“You really haven’t been letting the grass grow under your feet.”
“Not the Army way.”
“Your mother might not have mentioned it if she was going somewhere she didn’t want anyone to know about.”
“Well, she walked wherever she was going all dressed up for everyone to see. How clandestine could it be?”
“I wasn’t necessarily implying that she was having an affair.”
“Sure you were. And trust me, I thought about that scenario, as much as I didn’t want to. But in the end, I don’t believe she would do that. A girlfriend would have known. It would have come out. None of the people I talked to mentioned anything like that. There would have been signs. And my mother was devoutly religious. Adultery is a mortal sin. I just don’t see it.”
“The way you state the case I think you’re right.”
They drove the rest of the way to Williamsburg in silence.
Kelly Adams was Father Rooney’s niece. She had taken him in two years ago. His sister—Adams’s mother—had lived with her daughter until she had died a few years back.
All of this Adams explained as she was leading Puller and Knox through the substantial footprint of her home not far from the historic area of Williamsburg.
“Very nice place,” noted Knox. “Your yard is beautiful, everything in bloom.”
“I love it here,” said Adams, a petite woman in her late forties with short dark hair. “I went to William and Mary, right down the street. And my daughter goes there now.”
“Great school,” said Puller.
“One of the best,” agreed Adams. “George is on the rear patio waiting for you.”
“George?” said Puller.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You probably just knew him as Father Rooney. His first name is George.”
She opened a French door and led them onto a rear deck made of stone pavers. There was a large wooden trellis overgrown with ivy that would give shade from the sun. Several comfortable seating areas were set up here. In the center of the space perched in a chair around a teak table was the retired priest. Adams led them over and made introductions.
Father Rooney’s hair was snowy white and carefully combed. He was smaller than Puller remembered, but then Puller was a lot bigger now than he had been then. The old priest was dressed in slacks, rubber-soled shoes, and a white polo shirt showing off a bit of paunch. His skin was pale and his eyebrows were bushy. He had on tinted glasses though the sun was setting.
A pitcher of lemonade and glasses were on the table. Puller and Knox sat and Adams poured out lemonade for them and then returned to the house.
Father Rooney took off his glasses and rubbed them on a napkin. “John Puller.” His voice held an engaging drawl that Puller instantly remembered from all the homilies.
Rooney put the glasses back on. “I haven’t heard that name in a very long time.”
“Referring to my father? I’m named after him.”
“Oh, I know you are. And then there was your brother, Robert, or Bobby as folks called him.”
“I read he was in trouble, but then it turned out he had been falsely accused. I hope he’s doing well now.”
“Very well. Or he was, until now.”
Rooney took a sip of his beverage and sat back. “I take it this has to do with your mother’s disappearance?”
Rooney nodded and glanced at Knox. “Do you work with John?”
“Yes,” said Knox before Puller could interject.
Rooney nodded again and folded his hands over his small belly. “It was a long time ago. Why the sudden interest now?”
“Fresh developments. We can’t get into those, but it has stirred renewed interest in the case.”
“And you’re with CID. Are you investigating this matter officially?”
Puller gazed at the retired priest a bit suspiciously.
Rooney smiled. “I spent nearly all my professional life working on military bases. You get to know the people, the process, how things are done. I had a great many friends among the CID community, John. You pick up on things.”
“I’m here in a personal capacity, Father Rooney. Knox here is really doing me a favor.”
“And are you with CID as well, Ms. Knox?”
She shrugged. “It’s a bit more complicated than that.”
Puller said, “The night my mother went out and didn’t come back it was described that she was dressed in her Sunday best. St. Mary’s was within walking distance and she didn’t take the car. I wondered whether she came to see you.”
Rooney took a minute to consider all this before clearing his throat and saying, “Jackie Puller was devout in her faith. As the wife of a one-star she was expected to participate in many efforts and organizations at Fort Monroe, and she did. But the efforts she expended at St. Mary’s came solely from her faith. I can’t think of one significant undertaking at the church for which she did not volunteer. She attended Mass every Sunday with you and your brother in tow. And your father occasionally. She also came several times a week to pray and perform her rosary. And she was a regular at the confessional.”
At this last comment Knox shifted uncomfortably in her seat. If Rooney noticed this he didn’t comment.
“So it would not have been unusual for her to show up at the church on any given day, or any given time?” asked Puller.
“No, it wouldn’t. However, I wasn’t expecting her that night. If I had been I would have told the police.”
Puller nodded, slowly taking this in. He knew this probably was the case, but he still had had to pursue this lead.
“In your discussions with her did she seem happy? Were there problems with my father?”
Rooney held up a hand. “Although I’m no longer an active priest I will carry the sanctity of my conversations with my parishioners to the grave. So I’m afraid I can’t discuss such matters.”
“Even if we’re trying to find out what happened to her?” said Knox.