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Lori Dorsett let her rented sedan coast to a stop close to the curb on the eastbound side of Oliver Street. Without looking left or rightor at the map of Glory, North Carolina, on her lapshe knew that she'd parked opposite Founders Park and up the street from Snacks of Glory, "the home of the Glorious SOGgy Burger." Another fifty feet or so and she'd be able to see the garish red-and-yellow neon hamburger glowing in the restaurant's window.
"You do good work," she murmured happily, confident that she'd learned the lay of the land. She'd memorized the locations of the small town's landmark buildings: the town hall, the police headquarters, the fire department and the Glory National Bank.
And of course, Glory Community Church.
Immediately after breakfast, Lori had driven every one of Glory's fifteen major streets at least three timesand many five or sixbut in a random pattern to relieve suspicion should anyone be watching.
Like the lady cop on Main Street who decided that I was casing the bank.
Lori chuckled. It was too bad that she didn't have her camera with her at the time. Lori would have loved to capture the look of disappointment on the cop's face when she realized that Lori was a tourist in Glory and a guest at The Scottish Captain.
Later in the morning Lori had driven through Glory again, visiting the town's best-known historic sites and buildings to take pictures, actually going to the trouble of unfolding her portable tripod and snapping shots from various angles.
Photography was the heart of Lori's cover. She'd supposedly just finished a year-long certificate program in travel photography at the Chicago Institute of Graphic Arts. Her cameraa professional-quality Nikon digital single-lens reflexwas larger and more expensive than most tourists would carry. And she had a complete assortment of lenses and filters and memory cardsexactly the sort of extravagant camera system that would be owned by a well-heeled recent divorcée striving to transform a hobby into a new career.
Founders Park would be Lori's last "photo shoot" of the day.
She climbed out of the car, crossed Oliver Street and set up her camera in front of the statue of Moira McGregor. The visitors' guidebook that Lori had nearly memorized explained that Moira had been married to Duncan McGregor, the leader of the group of Scottish émigrés who had settled Glory in the spring of 1733.
"I'll be with you in a flash, Moira. Hold that silly grin while I make a phone call."
Lori surreptitiously scanned her surroundings. There were no trees in her immediate vicinity and the buildings on the south side of Oliver Street were fairly low, yielding a clear view of the sky.
She switched on her satellite telephone and dialed Kevin Pomeroy's direct line in Chicago.
"A happy Tuesday morning to you, Mizz Dorsett," a cheerful male voice boomed. "How's life in the Southland?"
"Quiet. It's the middle of a workday here and there are maybe a half dozen cars on the street."
"What were you expecting? I warned you that Glory is a clone of Mayberry."
"You were right, Kevin. I keep waiting for Andy Griffith to walk around the corner. I've seen ten different women who look like Aunt Bea."
"Where are you staying?"
"Where we want me to beThe Scottish Captain."
"Ha! I told you we didn't need to risk making a reservation."
"You were right again. The place has six bedrooms. They won't fill up until the summer."
"Watch out for bedbugs."
"To the contrary. The Captain is a grand old houselovely inside. The sort of place you should take Francine for a romantic weekend." She laughed. "The town has a definite charm about it, too. There are several excellent restaurants, I've been told."
"Uh-huh. I'm sure that the art museum is inspirational, and I'll bet the local galleria has an impressive collection of Fifth Avenue boutiques."
"Well, cultural opportunities are somewhat limited, but I have passed a few interesting specialty shops."
"Right! And there's always the big box stores on the outskirts of town." He moaned. "I almost feel guilty sending you to a hick townuntil I remember that your last assignment was two months in San Francisco." He added. "Do you have any sense of how long you'll have to sojourn in beautiful downtown Glory?"
"Three weeks, maybe four. To be on the safe side, I told the owner of the B and B that I planned a month of picture taking in the region."
"How's the weather?"
"The month of May in this corner of North Carolina is glorious. No pun intended."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Half the businesses in town have names that start with Glorious or Glory. To give you an idea, there's the Glorious Burger, the Glorious Table, the Glorious Dry Cleaner, the Glory Girls Shop and my favoriteSnacks of Glory."
"Speaking of business have you run into the lawyer yet?"
"Yep. She helped me carry my bags up to my room. I recognized her immediatelyshe looks exactly like her photograph. Plump. Blond. Early sixties. Attractive."
"This is too easy." He chuckled. "You're not going to tell me she's in the bedroom next door, are you?"
"Nope.Apparently there's a good-size apartment on the third floor of The Scottish Captainshe lives up there."
"Good. Stay out of her wayshe's a sharp cookie."
"So am I."
Lori listened for his reply. When none came after about ten seconds, she asked, "What's wrong?"
"I'm worried about you. I hope you're taking proper security precautions."
"Of course I am. For starters, I'm calling you on a satellite phone. No one in Glory can eavesdrop on the signal." She readjusted the chunky device against her ear. It was a size larger than many of the latest cell phones; anyone watching would assume she still owned an old cell phone from the late '90s.
"I wish you had a gun," Kevin said. All the usual humor had left his voice
"I don't need one." She added, "These are church peoplea bit crooked perhaps, but not organized criminals."
"Yeah, but I still wish you had a weapon. There's already been one murder related to the case."
"On that happy note, I'll say goodbye."
"Watch your back, Lori."
"I always do."
She turned off the sat phone and thought about Glory Community Churchthe epicenter of everything that had recently happened in Glory. She peered up at Moira McGregor's smiling face. "First I'll take your picture," Lori said, "then I'll drop by the church to see whom I can meet."
Pastoral care was not among Reverend Daniel Hartman's chief spiritual gifts. He knew that he could preach and teach with gusto, but neither expertise was especially useful when a longtime member of Glory Community Church wanted his hand held, his back patted and his anguish comforted.
When in doubt, let them talk it out. "You we're saying that you feel guilty " Daniel prompted the man seated at the other side of the round table in his office.
"Worse than guilty." George Ingles shook his head slowly. "I feel incredibly stupid. I can't begin to understand how I let this mess happen. I've failed everyone in the church."
Daniel managed to quell his urge to nod in agreement. He concurred with George's harsh self-assessment. The man had been a world-class pinhead; he'd let the whole congregation down. And now the church was in dire straits because of the poor decision he had made.
"I'm sure," Daniel said, "everyone at Glory Community has forgiven your ah misplaced confidence. You put your faith in a man who didn't deserve your trust. Anyone might have made the same mistake."
George stared at the floor. "I'm not anyone. I've had enough experience to know better. I should've spotted the warning signs."
Daniel grunted noncommittally. George went on. "The fact is I don't think anyone at church has forgiven me. Forgiveness is toughespecially when you have to forgive someone who lost close to a million dollars of your money."
Daniel merely nodded. What could he say? George was right. In his role as Glory Community's financial secretary, it had been his responsibility to invest the church's nest egg wisely. The year before, John Caruthers, a member of the choir, had left the church a six-hundredthousand-dollar cash bequest and ten rare books that the church had sold for more than $350,000. In keeping with John Caruthers's wishes, the gift would be used to support the music ministries at Glory Community and other less affluent churches.
But now the money was gone. George had been conned by a man named Quentin Fisher, a supposedly Christian financial adviser of impeccable reputation. Quentin had worked at McKinley Investments Ltd., a stock brokerage of equally sterling repute. Quentin had talked George into making a series of risky investments that promised to double the church's money in a few months. Four months later the church's investment account had been wiped outand Quentin was dead.
"And our plans and dreams for the wonderful music ministry are gone," Daniel muttered to himself.
He glanced at George. Perhaps he should tell him the truththat George knew less about finance than he thought he did. True, he had an M.B.A. and had been a vice president in a large corporation. The more important fact was that George had worked most of his career in human resources and had hardly any day-to-day experience managing large sums of money.
Daniel couldn't bring himself to do it. "With God's help, everything will be set right," he said. "We have a good chance of winning our lawsuit against McKinley Investments. I have high hopes that we'll get our money back."
"Me, too. But who knows how long that will take? What do we do until then?" He rolled his eyes. "We made commitments to assist three poor churches. They are relying on us to help them, but now we don't have the money to make good on our pledges. What are we going to do about that? I don't have the heart to tell their pastors that we're broke."
"We must lean on God and muddle through the best we can."
"I suppose soeven though I hate to think of myself as a muddler."
Daniel looked up in response to a gentle tapping on his open office door. The church's administrative secretary, Ann Trask, strode into the room, a determined expression on her young face. Daniel stifled a smile. Ann often seemed twenty-four going on forty, a petite blue-eyed blonde who would have made a great drill sergeant. In fact, Ann oversaw the daily business of Glory Community Church with startling efficiency. Daniel had come to rely on her intelligence and discernment.
"Yes, Ann," he said.
"There's a woman herea visitor to Glorywho wants to photograph our stained-glass windows from the inside of the church " She seemed to end her sentence in midthought.
"I was going to say okay, but" she sighed "with everything that's happened recently, I decided to make sure that you don't mind."
Before Daniel could respond, another person appeared in the doorway. "Perhaps I had better explain why I'm here, Reverend Hartman."
Daniel looked past Ann in surprise. His unforeseen visitor struck him as extraordinarily prettya woman worth staring at. Her brown eyes seemed bigger than most, her mouth fuller and her nose better proportioned. She had brunette hair cut fairly short and a dark complexion. The woman stepped around Ann and into his office.
Out of the corner of his eye Daniel saw George Ingles leap to his feet. Daniel stood, too.
The woman walked toward them, her right hand extended. "My name is Lori Dorsett," she said. "I'm from ChicagoI'll be visiting Glory for the next month or so." Daniel noted that she moved gracefully, but with the kind of powerful grace achieved by an athlete rather than a ballet dancer. "I'm staying at The Scottish Captain."
He felt a twinge of annoyance when Georgeon the side of the table nearest to Lorimoved next to her more quickly than he could and lunged at her hand. "I'm George Ingles," he said, voice oozing, "an elder of the church and our financial secretary. Let me welcome you to Glory. We like to think of ourselves as the friendliest small town in North Carolina."
Daniel tried to take charge. "Friendly indeed, Miss Dorsett, welcome to Glory," he said enthusiastically. "The Captain is one of our nicest bed-and-breakfasts." But his words had no effect. George Ingles maintained his grip on Lori's right hand and she seemed content to keep smiling at him.
Why would she feel that way? Daniel wondered. George was your run-of-the-mill, sixty-year-old retired businessman, slightly overweight, mostly bald and totally married. There were hundreds more like him living in Glory. Lori, by contrast, was a rarity in towna stunning woman in her late thirties with a splendid figure and a bare ring finger.