A teenage girl has vanished in Santa Fe. Nearby, in the Trappist monastery of St. Mary of the Snows, a beautiful young nun is stabbed to death. Father Nicholas Fortis is on sabbatical at St. Mary's, and when Lieutenant Christopher Worthy of the Detroit Police Department is flown in to help find the missing teenager, the Orthodox monk asks his friend to delve into the nun's murder as well. The two men make a perfect team: the monk's gregarious manner opens hearts and the detective's keen intuition infiltrates psyches. The Book of Matthew refers to the "narrow gate" that leads to heaven. Each of the key players in these two cases was rattling heaven's gate in a frantic and even dangerous quest for salvation. Lieutenant Sera Lacey of the Santa Fe Police, with her captivating looks and insight into the Native Americans and cultures of the Southwest, proves both a boon and a distraction for Worthy. As Father Fortis navigates the social hierarchy of the monks of St. Mary's, he begins to fear their secret agendas. Bowing to the pressure to solve both cases, the investigators let the clues lead them in opposite directions. At the end of one of those paths, Death awaits. Book one in a new detective series featuring Christopher Worthy and Father Fortis.
About the Author
David Carlson was born in the western suburbs of Chicago and grew up in parsonages in various cities of Illinois. His grade school years were spent in Springfield, Illinois, where the numerous Abraham Lincoln sites initiated his lifelong love of history. He attended Wheaton College (Illinois) where he majored in political science and planned on going to law school. Not sure how to respond to the Vietnam War, he decided to attend seminary for a year to weigh his options. To his surprise, he fell in love with theological thinking--especially theological questioning--and his career plan shifted to college teaching in religious studies. He earned a doctorate at University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Franklin College, a traditional liberal arts college in central Indiana, has been his home for the past thirty-eight years. David has been particularly attracted to the topics of faith development, Catholic-Orthodox relations, and Muslim-Christian dialogue. In the last thirteen years, however, religious terrorism has become his area of specialty. In 2007, he conducted interviews across the country in monasteries and convents about monastic responses to 9/11 and religious terrorism. The book based on that experience, Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World, was published in 2011 by Thomas Nelson and was selected as one of the Best Books of 2011 in the area of Spiritual Living by Library Journal. He has written a second book on religious terrorism, Countering Religious Extremism: The Healing Power of Spiritual Friendships (New City Press, 2017). Much of his time in the last three years has been spent giving talks as well as being interviewed on radio and TV about ISIS. Nevertheless, he is still able to spend summers in Wisconsin where he enjoys sailing, fishing, kayaking, and restoring an old log cabin. His wife, Kathy, is a retired English professor, an award-winning artist, and an excellent editor. Their two sons took parental advice to follow their passions. The older, Leif, is a photographer, and the younger, Marten, is a filmmaker. For more information, please visit davidccarlson.org.
Read an Excerpt
Enter by the Narrow Gate
A Christopher Worthy/Father Fortis Mystery
By David Carlson
Coffeetown PressCopyright © 2016 David Carlson
All rights reserved.
Sister Anna stared in disbelief at the rusty lock dangling from the latch. How could this have happened? She'd left the remote retreat house before noon, as she had every day that week, and was absolutely positive that she'd locked it. Every day, when she'd returned from her painting forays into the surrounding canyons of New Mexico's high desert, she'd found the place locked up tightly. Until today.
In the gathering darkness, her fingers found the latch and rested on the two loose screws. Just the crazy summer wind, she thought with relief.
She laughed lightly as she opened the door and stepped inside. "A couple of screws loose. How perfect." Those were exactly the words her father had uttered when she first told him of her decision to become a nun. Too bad he isn't still alive to hear I'm leaving the order, she thought.
With each step down the narrow hallway, she expected to see the faint gleam of the battery-powered lamp in the bedroom. But there was no light.
"I know I left that on," she muttered. But the lamp dimmed last night, she recalled. Maybe the battery had finally given out. Just as well, she thought. Tomorrow I leave and then it's a whole new beginning.
Loose screws and dim bulbs. Like the punch line of a bad joke. Her fingers found the mattress, then the nightstand and the matches upon it. She lit the candle and sat down wearily upon the bed.
"Tomorrow, a whole new beginning," she repeated, as she lay back on the pillows and stared up at the gnarled log rafters. The place had been her home for the week after Easter, and here she'd decided to end her religious vocation. The decision had come gradually but with increasing waves of relief. She would use the inheritance from her grandmother to rent an art studio, maybe still in New Mexico, and begin her life yet again. She knew it was the right decision to leave St. Mary of the Snows, but that didn't mean there wouldn't be painful conversations ahead.
She would begin by telling Abbot Timothy, not just to follow monastic rules of respect, but because Abbot Timothy deserved to know first. It had been he, on his annual supervisory visit to her convent in Oklahoma, who had found her languishing in the infirmary. Blathering as was usual for him — always calling her Sister Annetta — he'd seen what she couldn't have admitted to herself at the time, that her desire to be both a nun and artist was never going to be acceptable to Abbess Cecelia. He'd invited Anna to return with him to St. Mary of the Snows, where she'd stayed for the past two months while her strength returned.
My decision will be a slap in the face, she thought.
A scurrying sound from the other side of the retreat house interrupted her thoughts. Yawning, she sat up. That pesky red squirrel again. She made a mental note to tell Father Bernard about the uninvited visitor so a trap could be set before the next guest arrived.
She looked down longingly at the pillow. "I'll be back after my prayers, so save my place."
Taking the candle, she retraced her steps down the hallway toward the chapel. A tightness gripped her stomach at the prospect of explaining her decision to Father Bernard, her spiritual director for the past two months.
"Maybe he already suspects," she mumbled to herself. Their most recent meetings had become games of twenty questions, and she hadn't been winning. Father Bernard seemed to have some hidden agenda for her, one that shifted without rhyme or reason. His adamant opposition to her initial request for a retreat had inexplicably given way to enthusiastic consent the next day. "Talk about a hard guy to figure out," she said.
Hearing more rustling sounds from down the hallway, she stopped and felt her spine tingle. The red squirrel was getting bolder, or maybe more than one had found a way in. She tiptoed gingerly to the doorway of the room and peered into the darkness. She heard nothing.
"You rascal, you know I'm here, don't you?" she called into the gloom.
Again, she heard nothing. The tingling along her backbone persisted as she edged into the room, the candle held out in front of her. What's making me anxious, she told herself, isn't the pesky squirrel but the knowledge that Father Bernard will be tougher on me than Abbot Timothy. The abbot would simply look older and sadder as he called her Sister Annetta for the last time. But Father Bernard would stomp around, his hair flying, as he pummeled her with question after question.
Kneeling before the altar in the dark chapel, she offered a prayer for the last person at the monastery she'd have to tell. Abbot Timothy's disappointment and even Father Bernard's anger would be easier to take than Brother Andrew's tears. Her partner in the monastery's print shop for the past months, Andrew had grown too fond of her. The two of them were among the few under thirty at St. Mary's, so perhaps his attraction had been inevitable. But his plea of undying love, delivered with a rose two weeks before, had strained their easy friendship.
She gazed down at the flickering candlelight on the floor and groaned. Did she need to tell Brother Andrew first? If someone else told him of her decision to leave her order, he'd be sure to misunderstand and assume she'd accepted his harebrained plan to run off together.
Over the past week, she'd half-expected Brother Andrew to find his way over the twenty miles that separated the retreat house from the monastery. But, then, she'd feared the same from Father Bernard. She was sure that it was crazy thoughts such as these that had made her believe she was being watched over the past two days.
As she tried to restart her prayers, the truth hit her: she'd established deeper roots in her two months at St. Mary's than she had in her last three years at her home convent in Oklahoma. The only monk at St. Mary's who'd be happy to see her go would be the coward who'd kept leaving her notes. You don't belong here. You are not wanted here. And that last one: You will have to answer to God for what you are doing to St. Mary's.
Behind her, from the back room, she heard the rustling sounds again. Only this time the commotion seemed too loud. Her whole body tensed as she realized that the source was no squirrel.
"Oh, Lord," she whispered, "the open door." So what was behind her — a cow, coyote, or rattlesnake? Not a snake, she concluded. A rattlesnake would only rattle.
She considered forgetting the prayers and running back to her room. I could leave the outside door open again, she thought, so the uninvited guest could leave. Or another could come in.
To fight back the panic rising in her stomach, she gazed up at the altar and searched in the gloom for the statues of the suffering Christ and the Virgin Mary that flanked the cross. Why did the altar seem so bare? She rose to one knee and reached for the candle to shed more light on the matter. It was then that she saw the confetti strewn on the floor to her left.
Just a squirrel after all, she thought with relief. "Shame on you, you little rascal."
She brought the candlelight down to the mess and gasped. The statues from the altar, broken in pieces before her, were surrounded by bits of paper.
She reached for the shredded bits, only to recognize familiar lines and words from her journal.
"Mary, Mother of God, have mercy on me," she whispered as the paper fluttered from her hand to the floor.
She sensed rather than heard the movement behind her. Still kneeling, she turned and saw a hooded figure coming toward her out of a dark corner. The knife's blade tore into her back, was yanked out, and stabbed her again.
Sinking to the floor, she tried to form words of a prayer. Her lips moved, but the only voice she heard came from the one standing over her.
"Fallen, fallen is the whore of Babylon."CHAPTER 2
On a warm morning in late April, Father Fortis was drumming his fingers on the library table. Thump, thump, thump, two quicker thumps and then a flourish of four final beats. He stopped and pondered the sound. His fingers hadn't erred, but the meter couldn't be right. The sequence violated the pattern of every Byzantine chant he knew.
Flipping back to the beginning of the article lying open in front of him, he reread Father Linus's opening argument. The work was the most respected treatment of Roman chant to come out in the last thirty years, and the presence of the elderly Father Linus at St. Mary of the Snows had been, in fact, the reason Father Fortis had chosen the New Mexican Trappist monastery for his sabbatical.
Father Fortis saw his work on ancient Roman chant as his small contribution to the slow journey of reconciliation between the Orthodox and Catholic churches. He had detractors at his own Orthodox monastery in Ohio who denounced his sabbatical at the Catholic and Trappist monastery of St. Mary of the Snows as "too ecumenical."
Too ecumenical? Father Fortis wanted to remind his critics that Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI had embraced in 1964, ending the schism of the previous millennium and setting the two churches on the road to reconciliation. He bristled at the notion that his love of his Orthodox heritage was compromised by his willingness to admit that Catholics could be equally devoted to their own rich tradition.
Closing his eyes, Father Fortis whistled the line. No, that meter is not possible, he concluded with a firm shake of his head. I must discuss this with Father Linus when we meet. He inhaled deeply to whistle the line again when a bony hand clamped down on his own.
He looked up into the jowls of an elderly monk, the same monk who'd been napping at the head table when he entered the library.
Chastened, Father Fortis frowned and whispered an apology. Glancing around the room, he saw a novice and three monks of various ages working at separate tables. He offered a nod of regret in their direction, but they all acted as if they'd heard nothing.
It was then that he realized the old monk still held him firmly by the hand.
"I want you to leave," the monk whispered, saliva flying from the corners of his mouth.
"What?" Father Fortis asked, pulling his hand free.
Father Fortis heard a cough emanate from one of the other tables. "I'm here for research," he whispered in explanation.
"What research?" the old monk demanded.
"Roman chant with Father Linus."
Straightening up, the old monk folded his arms. He continued to stare down at Father Fortis. "Then do your whistling in Linus's room. This is my library."
Father Fortis gathered his books, paper, and pen. Like being back in high school, he thought.
Out in the hallway, he found a drinking fountain and took a long drink. Nice beginning to my stay, he thought, as he wet his hands and wiped his face. Turning, he saw a novice standing awkwardly behind him.
"Brother Elias is a bit upset today," the young man offered, pulling at one of his sleeves. "We all are. Please forgive our manners."
Father Fortis nodded as he patted his face with a handkerchief. "Certainly, certainly, my son. Sorry if my whistling disturbed everyone. Quite thoughtless of me."
The novice raised his hand. "No, no, not at all." Extending his hand, he added, "I'm Bartholomew, just a brother, not a priest. You're the Orthodox monk staying with us."
With a slight smile, Father Fortis lifted his arms above his massive torso to let the black silk of his robes hang like wings. "I must look like an overweight Batman in this get-up, but please call me Father Nicholas."
The novice returned the smile. "Ah, the winged avenger. I collected Batman comics as a kid. How long will you be with us?"
"My sabbatical is for six weeks."
The novice's face beamed with pleasure. "That's wonderful. Maybe they'll ask you to speak in one of our chapter meetings. The Orthodox are our sister church dating a long ways back, as Pope John Paul II made clear. We had a Buddhist monk stay with us for a week. That was a couple of months ago, but I'm still reading books that he left."
"An Orthodox monk and even a Buddhist monk? St. Mary's must be a very open place."
The two walked down the hallway toward the dormitory. "Yes and no," the novice replied. "Not everyone approved of the Buddhist being here."
"I suppose that means the old monk in the library didn't let him whistle either."
The novice laughed easily. "No, Brother Elias is definitely old-school. He probably thinks of you Orthodox as heretics."
"Not a big believer in Vatican II, then," Father Fortis mused.
"I'm not sure he believes in Vatican I," Brother Bartholomew replied with a smile. "But you're lucky to be working with Father Linus. He's just the opposite."
"Well, I hope to be working with Father Linus. I arrived five days ago, but we haven't had much chance to dig into the research. Father Linus was down with a cold when I first arrived and now, as you say, everyone is a bit preoccupied. After all, her funeral was just yesterday."
"Yes, Sister Anna's death — her murder — is a terrible tragedy," the novice said, his voice thick with emotion. "She was one of us at St. Mary's, strange as that may seem. No one can believe she's actually gone. Did you meet her?"
"No, she'd already left for her retreat when I arrived last week. But I was here when they brought back the terrible news." Father Fortis paused in front of his guestroom and fished out his key. "In times like these, a community relies on its abbot."
He looked up and caught the pained expression on the novice's face.
"Abbot Timothy is a good abbot, St. Mary's superior for over two decades, and a holy man," the novice whispered, as he glanced down the hallway in both directions. "There's no doubt about that, but he seems...."
"I sense that he's a bit overwhelmed," Father Fortis offered. "Quite understandable, really."
The novice shrugged. "That's a kind way of putting it. Some of the older brothers say the abbot has been eccentric for some time, but this week it's much worse."
Father Fortis remembered his first meeting with Abbot Timothy on Wednesday, when he'd stopped in to formally introduce himself and thank the monastery for its hospitality. But it wasn't clear how much of what he'd said had been heard by the old man, who sat slumped to one side in a chair. Wednesday had been the same day that the news of Sister Anna's death had been shared with the community, so Father Fortis had simply given the abbot the benefit of the doubt.
But the next morning, when news crews began arriving from Santa Fe, Father Fortis saw a side of the abbot that supported Brother Bartholomew's concern. From his window, he'd observed the monks as they returned from their chapter meeting. They'd walked with heads down, their sandaled feet sending up small clouds of dust. Without warning, a photographer had moved toward one of the novices, someone who seemed even younger than Brother Bartholomew. The poor boy raised his hood and shied away from the raised camera, but this only drew more attention from the rest of the news crew.
Abbot Timothy stepped forward to intervene, but was pushed aside and nearly fell in the process. Another monk, a burly one with a nimbus of wild gray hair, stepped into the fray and pushed the photographer back with a mighty shove. The photographer went down in a heap, his camera flying. More dust. Abbot Timothy teetered for a moment, his hand covering his mouth, before turning on his heels and scurrying away.
What a zoo, Father Fortis had thought at the time.
Father Fortis inserted the key and turned the doorknob of his room. "Well, Brother Bartholomew, we know what we must do. We must all pray for the abbot," he whispered.
"And we must all help him where we can," the novice added cryptically. He nodded and continued down the hall.
Entering the room, Father Fortis placed his research on the bedside table. Staring up at him was the newspaper that he'd bought the day before when last in town. He sat on the bed and reread the account of how one of the novices had discovered Sister Anna's body in a remote retreat house owned by St. Mary's. He wondered if the novice had been Brother Bartholomew or the poor boy who'd been harassed by the photographer.
Excerpted from Enter by the Narrow Gate by David Carlson. Copyright © 2016 David Carlson. Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Press.
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