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Spirituality has never been Lupe Solano's strong suit. But the recently transplanted Order of the Illumination of the Sacred Virgin is predicting that, on October tenth, the blessed icon at the Shrine of the Cuban Virgin will shed real tears. It is a date that holds great significance for Miami's Cuban-Americans. And the miraculous event if it indeed occurs will certainly rock the community, the nation, and the world.
Hired by an apprehensive Mother Superior, Lupe sets out to either substantiate the verity of the upcoming phenomenon or to expose a brazen hoax and its mastermind. But as the date of the anticipated wondrous event draws closer, Lupe's hunt for the truth suddenly becomes a search for a killer. For there is a dark secret being protected behind a convent's fortress-like walls. And more will die before the blessed Virgin weeps, unless one skeptical sleuth-for-hire can unveil an evil that may be taking refuge in the most sacred of places.
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"Lupe. are you almost finished? You've been in there for half an hour already. We can't keep Mother Superior waiting!"
Even though I had the shower on full-blast, I could hear sister Lourdes pounding on the bathroom door and screaming at me. I had to smile at what she had said. Half an hour -- a perfect Cuban exaggeration. I had been in there for fifteen minutes at the most. It's a well-known fact that Cubans have no real sense of time. Whenever a Cuban relates a particular time, it's normally wise to add or subthirty percent one way or the other.
Still, fifteen minutes had been ample time, to clean up.I had soaped myself so many times that my skin had actually taken on a slight pinkish fine-no meanfeatat for a Cuban. I had washed my hair twice, and now I was considering a third conditioning treatment. I hadn't spent fifteen minutes in the shower because I was so filthy; the truth was that I wanted to delay my morning meeting as long as I possibly could.
Lourdes stopped knocking for the moment. I knew she was almost as apprehensive as me about our appointment with her mother superior. My sister had never before found herself arranging a tete-a-tete between the head of her order and a private investigator. I was almost positive Lourdes knew what the meeting was about, but she wasn't talking.
Every Catholic, no matter how holy and devout, or how worldly and fallen, still gets a case of knocking knees at the very notion of meeting with a mother superior. We all suspect that such a high-level nun can look into our eyes and somehow see all the sins we never admitted at confession. And the Catholic Church is pretty strict about humanbehavior -- a sin contemplated is a sin committed, as a general rule. It's a miracle anyone ever gets to Heaven.
The pounding started again. Lourdes had been working out lately, and it was starting to pay off. She was able to simulate the sound of a lumberjack beating on the door, trying to get in.
I turned off the water. I couldn't claim to be clean of mind, but I could be clean of body. I would have to be content with a fifty-percent success I rate.
"Lupe! One more minute and I'm coming in! I swear it!"
I started to towel off. It was a little disconcerting to have a nun make that kind of oath, especially in the morning'. I knew I had better hurry, or else soon I would havecompa in the shower stall.
"Ten minutes," I called out.
I could almost hear a sigh of relief through the two-inch-thick wooden door. Lourdes had known she would have to drag me to the convent, but she probably hadn't counted on nearly having to break down a door first.
"It's exactly eight forty-five," she announced. I could picture her looking at her wristwatch, tracking the course of the second hand.
"Ten minutes," I repeated, louder. "I promise."
"We have to be in the car with the motor running at nine," she said."I'll go tell Osvaldo to get ready."
I listened to her footsteps receding down the hall. Then I sighed in resignation. She had set the schedule, I would have to follow it. It wasnt easy being the younger sister of a nun, even one one as progressive and cool as Lourdes.
So I had ten minutes to make myself presentable for Mother Superior. I wasn't sure what would be considered acceptable attire as I flipped through the racks of clothes in my closet. I had to chuckle at the sight of three pairs of black patent-leather shoes at the front of the closet-those would never do for this morning's meeting. I would never forget Sister Mary Magdalene's tone of voice in parochial school, when she said that no good Catholic girl should ever wear patent-leather shoes -- because, she had said, a girl's underpants could be spotted in the shoes' shiny reflection. When I thought about it it was that Lourdes and I grew up to be reasonably well justed adults.
Istarted to rummage around. Something demure -- a high-necked, long-sleeve,floor-skimming outfit?No, it might make me come off as a wannabe nun. Anyway, I didn't think I could carry it off. A mother superior would have the ability to spot me as the sinner I was, even if I dressed in a habit and wimple. Both of which, incidentally, I had packed, away in a box in the back of the closetsouvenirs from a particularly memorable Halloween party.
Armani? No, too expensive. Everyone knew what that designees clothes cost. Another universal attribute of the Catholic clergy is their ability to assess a person's bank account in a single glance. If I wore one of my Armani suits, even the linen ones, Mother Superior would expect me to donate my services instead of paying me. She would figure that I was making too much money already from my other cases, and could forfeit my fee without much hardship. I don't work for free; it's a principle as far as I'm concerned.
But the truth was, no matter whether I appeared pious or profane prosperous or poor, I wouldn't be able to bill the Order of the Holy Rosary my usual fee of a hundred dollars per hour plus expenses. I had already decided that I would cut it in half -- but that was, as low as I would go.I'd give the mother superior her due, but I was no Mother Teresa, and, Solano Investigations was no charity...A Miracle in Paradise. Copyright © by Carolina Garcia-Aguilera. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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