Authors: Aimée Thurlo
Also by AimÃ©e and David Thurlo
The Sister Agatha series
Thief in Retreat
Prey for a Miracle
The Ella Clah series
A Rose Destea Novel
Plant Them Deep
AIMÃE AND DAVID THURLO
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously.
. Copyright Â© 2010 by AimÃ©e and David Thurlo. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
First Edition: July 2010
10Â Â 9Â Â 8Â Â 7Â Â 6Â Â 5Â Â 4Â Â 3Â Â 2Â Â 1
To our friends at the Archdiocese of Santa Feâ
Rita Lucero, Rosalie Romero, Sandra Kay Rael,
and Fran Andersen; you guys are terrific.
With special thanks to Di and Phillip Uzdawinis
for always taking time to answer our questions.
AITH COULD MOVE MOUNTAINS AND CAST THEM INTO THE
sea, but although Sister Agatha's faith was strong, it was far from impregnable. There were too many chinks in her armor, and lately it seemed as if God had decided to test each and every one.
At the moment, it was one thirty in the morning and she was barely awake. Yawning and shaking the cobwebs out of her head to stay alert, she drove toward the small town of Bernalillo, creeping down the narrow blacktop at forty-five miles per hour. The anemic headlights of the Antichryslerâthe monastery's rickety old station wagonâbarely parted the black curtain trying to envelop them.
Pax was sitting up straight on the passenger's side. A former police dog, he was now the monastery's pet and companion to the externsânuns who didn't take a vow of enclosure. Sister Agatha wondered if the old boy had somehow managed to
understand the seriousness of their current situation, and his personal connection to it.
Until tonight, she hadn't really believed that things at Our Lady of Hope could get any worse. For the past few months their monastery had been bravely fighting against a death sentence. Though the final curtain hadn't yet fallen, barring a miracle, the end was now near.
One slim hope still remained, but the threads that bound it were so fragile it didn't seem wise to cling to them. That was why Sister Agatha had chosen to protect herself by preparing for the worst.
Piensa mal y acertarÃ¡s
. It was a local Spanish saying that meant “Think the worst and you'll be right.” Yet her attempt to remain realistic just left her feeling even more empty inside.
With effort, Sister Agatha pushed aside those concerns for now and focused on the matter at hand. Late phone calls to the monasteryâlike the one less than thirty minutes agoâran the risk of not being heard and answered, since their only phones were inside Reverend Mother's office and the parlor. However, tonight's caller had been insistent and the ringing had eventually awakened Sister Bernarda.
That frantic call for help had come on behalf of one of the monastery's most loyal friends, and Reverend Mother had dispatched Sister Agatha immediately. As Mother had explained, Sister Agatha was the extern most used to handling “difficult” situationsâand that description certainly fit the situation at hand.
Forcing herself to focus exclusively on what she had to do next, Sister Agatha drove directly to the sheriff's station. The nearly full parking lot attested to the importance of what was taking place.
After finding a parking space at the end of the row, she put the big white German shepherd on his leash, then hurried down
the sidewalk to the front entrance. The foyer led to an equally small lobby, where a young male deputy was attempting to calm a shirtless and extremely irate older man in plaid shorts and flip-flops. He'd obviously had too much to drink. Drunks of all ages, sizes, and shapes abounded on the Fourth of July holiday, when celebrations usually went well into the wee morning hours of the fifth.
Ignoring the ruckus, she led her curious dog around the duo and stepped up to the front desk. Sergeant Millie Romero rose from her chair and nodded to her.
“I'm glad you're here, Sister Agatha,” she said loudly, trying to be heard over the noise the drunk was making. “Sorry for the circumstances. I imagine you want to see him now?”
“Yes, I do. While we're walking there, could you tell me what the department plans to do with him? A high-profile officer like he is will need extra care. The second they put him in with other prisoners he'll be in mortal danger.”
“That's why he's not in a cell. For now at least, he's being held in one of the interrogation rooms,” Millie said, coming out from behind the counter. Holding open the half-door that led into the bullpen, she added, “Do you want to leave Pax here while I take you to see him?”
“That's a good idea. This
his second home.” Sister Agatha unfastened the leash and saw Pax go beg a cracker from one of the sergeants at a cubicle.
As Millie walked down the hall with her, Sister Agatha could feel the woman's tension.
“He could sure use your help,” Millie said in a quiet voice. “Officially, there's not much we can do right now. Captain Chavez will keep an open mind, but things don't look good.”
“Where's Captain Chavez now?” Sister Agatha asked, looking around.
“He's still at the crime scene.”
Sister Agatha slowed her steps. “Before we go in, can you tell me how he's dealing with this?”
“Not well at all,” Millie said, nodding to another officer in the long passageway.
Sister Agatha swallowed back the sense of outrage that filled her. This man, of all men, deserved better. Nothing about the incident made sense to her.
A second later they stopped in front of a door that read
INTERVIEW ROOM A
. A thick window revealed the prisoner sitting in a wooden chair in front of a small table. His chin was resting on the table, and he looked half asleep.
Hearing the lock being worked, her old friend looked up, and Sister Agatha saw his face clearly for the first time.
Sheriff Tom Green looked exhausted. Bleary eyed and disheveled, he barely resembled the spit-and-polish professional his officers were used to confronting.
She and Tom went way back, and at rare times, Sister Aga tha could still catch fleeting glimpses of a Tom Green the others couldn't even imagine. Tonight, for one of those brief moments, she actually saw the reflection of her old college boyfriend. He had been a vulnerable, sensitive young man who'd claimed her heart before she'd been compelled to follow a higher calling.
He stood, squared his shoulders, and nodded to Millie. “How did you hear?” he asked Sister Agatha.
“One of your people called the monastery,” she said. “We were told you'd been detained.”
“Arrested,” he corrected. “My opponent in the sheriff's race, Robert Garcia, has been murdered. The evidence at the scene and the facts I know to be true don't match, but I didn't kill Robert.”
“I believe you, Tom,” she said. “Your people know that's true, too. So let's see what we can do to straighten this mess out.”
“I'll be down the hall if you need me,” Millie said.
Once the door shut, Sister Agatha focused on Tom. “I come into town often enough to know all about the campaignâthe name-calling and the rest of it. But howâ”
“Did I end up in this mess?” he interrupted, finishing her thought. “I wish I could tell you exactly what happened, but the details are all jumbled up in my mind. Worst of all, they don't match the physical evidenceâat least the bits I've been told about.”
“Tell me what you remember,” Sister Agatha said, taking a seat across the table from him.
He nodded. “I was in the park celebrating the Fourth, shaking hands, and basically meeting the public. Out of the blue Robert Garcia came up to me, carrying two hot dogs. He handed me one and asked if we could talk privately. He suggested that we go to the southwest corner of the park past the swings once the fireworks started. Nobody was likely to disturb us there at that time. I agreed. He then stepped away to speak to some of his people, and I continued talking to my constituents. After that, I picked up a glass of lemonade and kept campaigning. I'd started feeling really drowsy by the time I was supposed to go meet with Robert.”
“Your symptoms .Â .Â . were they like food poisoning?”
“No, not really. There was no nausea or stomach problems.”
“So what did you do about it?”
“Nothing. I sucked it up and went to meet Robert. When I reached him, everything was spinning, and I knew I was going to pass out. I wanted to tell him to get help, but I was having trouble putting words together. He said something just as my knees gave way. The last thing I remember was the startled look on Robert's face.”
“How are you feeling now?” Sister Agatha asked, leaning forward and looking more closely at her old friend.
“I'm okay, and before you ask, I had a physical a few months back. No blood pressure issues. I'm in perfect health, so I'm guessing I was drugged. It was either in the hot dog or the lemonade. That's all I had.”
“Didn't you say that Robert had a hot dog, too?” Sister Agatha asked, clarifying.
“Yes, they looked like ones from the city's kiosk. They were wrapped in those red, white, and blue napkins.”
“Okay,” she said. “Now tell me what happened after you regained consciousness.”
“I was flat on my back, and Millie Romero was crouched beside me. Millie said that Al Russo, Robert's campaign manager, had called 911. According to her, Russo lost track of Robert, so he went looking for him. What he found was Robert's dead bodyâkilled by a gunshotâwith a blood-smeared club in his hand. Since I have a bloody bruise on my head, the blood's probably mine.”
“So basically, they'll say you shot him before you went down,” she said, deep in thought.
“It's as if someone framed me but gave me an out. I could plead self-defense, but since a club's no match for a pistol, I'm vulnerable to charges of excessive force.”