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Authors: Sister Carol Anne O’Marie

The Missing Madonna

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MINOTAUR
MYSTERIES

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Praise for the Sister Mary Helen Mystery Series

“An unfailingly cozy mystery series.”


Library Journal

“Father Brown, move over!. . . Tough and compassionate, [Sister Mary Helen] understands the secrets of the human heart.”

—Andrew M. Greeley

“Shrewd and fearless, Sister [Mary Helen] is as efficient as she is endearing.”


San Francisco Chronicle

“Sister Mary Helen. . .handles her cases with bustling efficiency and an elfin sense of humor.”


New York Times Book Review

“O’Marie twines the strands of these disparate lives with humor and sympathy.”


Publishers Weekly
on
Requiem at the Refuge

“Another first-rate installment in an unfailingly entertaining series.”


Booklist
on
Requiem at the Refuge

“Enlivened by its series of incisive character studies—and sure to please the Sister’s legion of fans.”


Kirkus Reviews
on
Death Takes Up a Collection

“O’Marie delivers compelling characters and sophisticated plotting in her best effort to date.”


Publishers Weekly
on
Death of an Angel

“[An] excellent mystery series. . .Hard to put down.”


Booklist
on
Death of an Angel

“Hair-raising. . .A fast-reading story. [The] characters are delightfully real . . . This is one you won’t want to put down.”


West Coast Review of Books
on
A Novena for Murder

Also by Sister Carol Anne O’Marie

Death Takes Up a Collection

Death of an Angel

Advent of Dying

The Corporal Works of Murder

Death Goes on Retreat

Murder
Makes
a Pilgrimage

A Novena for Murder

Murder in Ordinary Time

A
VAILABLE FROM
S
T
. M
ARTIN

S
/M
INOTAUR
P
APERBACKS

Sister Carol Anne O’Marie

NOTE:
If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

THE MISSING MADONNA

Copyright © 1988 by Sister Carol Anne O’Marie.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

ISBN: 0-312-93695-8
EAN: 9780312-93695-2

Printed in the United States of America

Delacorte Press edition published 1988
Dell Paperbacks edition / December 1989
St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / August 2005

St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

With love

to my nieces and nephew
,

Caroline, John, and Noelle Benson
,

who can finally see their names in print

and

prove to their friends we are related!

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

AUTHOR’S NOTE

The Older Women’s League (OWL) is a real (and wonderful) organization founded in 1981, in Oakland, California, by Tish Summers and Laurie Shields. It should be emphasized, therefore, that all characters in this story are wholly fictitious and bear no relationship to any actual members of the organization, living or dead.

Tuesday, May 1
Feast of St. Joseph, the Worker

Sister Mary Helen grabbed the handrail of the Down escalator to steady herself. She peered into the late-night crowd at Newark Airport, hoping to spot their escort.

“Over there.” Nudging her, Sister Eileen pointed at a silver-haired woman holding a large printed sign that read
OWLS WELCOME
.

Mary Helen adjusted her bifocals. Sure enough, her friend Eileen was right. That was no doubt Mrs. Taylor-Smith, the woman who was to meet them and drive them to New York City.

“I feel downright foolish standing under a sign marked
OWLS
,” Mary Helen muttered out of the side of her mouth. “What in the world do you suppose people think?”

“I’m surprised you give a hoot.” A grin spread across Eileen’s wrinkled face.

Mary Helen laughed in spite of herself. “You’re beginning to sound just like Lucy Lyons,” she said, looking up the escalator at Lucy and their three other OWL companions, all chatting happily.

Quickly, the six OWLs cut through the crowd and stood in a circle around Mrs. Taylor-Smith.

“Welcome to New York.” She bobbed her beautifully styled head of hair. “And welcome especially to our
annual OWLs convention. I don’t have to tell any of you how important our political clout is or how happy I am to see you here. Our San Francisco chapter is one of our most influential.”

Mrs. Taylor-Smith paused, pursed her lips, and tilted her head.
Like an expensive cat
. Mary Helen had just come across that description in the English mystery she was reading on the plane. The woman fit the description
purr-fectly
. Good night, nurse! Lucy Lyons is contagious! she thought, patting her pocketbook to make sure she had remembered the paperback. Sure enough, it was there, wrapped in her faithful plastic prayerbook cover.

Their escort continued, “And San Francisco is also one of our most unusual chapters.” Smiling, she nodded toward Sister Mary Helen and Sister Eileen.

Mary Helen could feel her backbone stiffen. It was hard to tell if Mrs. Taylor-Smith was being patronizing or complimentary. Deciding to give the woman the benefit of the doubt, she smiled back.

“I’m sure it is,” Erma Duran spoke up. “And I know much of it is due to the presence of our dear Sisters.” Cocking her curly gray head, Erma smiled first at Mary Helen and then at Eileen. Finally, like a teacher about to present her prize pupils, she addressed their escort: “Why, where else would you find two older nuns carrying picket signs protesting the cuts in social security?”

Mary Helen winced, remembering Eileen and herself walking in a wide circle, freezing cold, in front of the Federal Building,
HONK IF YOU LOVE YOUR MOTHER
their large signs had read. Secretly, she had to admit she had been thrilled each time she heard a honk.

“And we are so pleased they could come with us,” Erma continued, seemingly unable to let the matter drop. Linking her arms through the nuns’ arms, she gave each a little squeeze.

Mary Helen squeezed back and she suspected Eileen had too.

Good old Erma Duran! Mary Helen couldn’t help calling her that and smiling whenever she did. Watching her now, grinning happily at an astonished Mrs. Taylor-Smith, Mary Helen found it hard to believe that it had been fifty years since the two of them had first met at Mount St. Francis College. It was in the late thirties and they were both taking a history course during summer session. Erma, then Erma McSweeney, was a bouncy, curly-haired student and Mary Helen was a young nun.

They had been assigned a joint history project and had worked together famously. Although Mary Helen remembered feeling a little guilty at the time. Erma seemed to be doing most of the work. Not that Mary Helen was a slouch. But even then she had known there is a certain amount of virtue in letting others do for you. It makes them happy and Erma McSweeney had seemed genuinely happy.

In spite of the fact that she hadn’t seen or heard from Erma since, except for an occasional Christmas card, Mary Helen had recognized her immediately when they met a year or so ago at the annual alumnae tea.

The curly hair was no longer rich brown but wiry and graying. The middle had widened an inch or two and a double chin had been added to the round face. But the trusting brown eyes, though a little myopic, were exactly as she remembered them, and not even time had changed that warm, ready smile. Mary Helen was delighted to have the opportunity to renew their friendship.

In fact, not long after they became reacquainted, it was Erma who had introduced Mary Helen and Eileen to the OWLs.

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