Seconds after partaking of wine during a Catholic funeral mass, Father Miguel Flores is dead on the altar. Detective Lieutenant Eve Dallas confirms that the consecrated wine contained enough potassium cyanide to kill a rhino. And though the East Harlem neighborhood is a long way from the stone mansion she shares with her billionaire husband Roarke, it’s the holiness flying around St. Christobal’s that makes her uneasy.
The autopsy reveals faint scars of knife wounds, a removed tattoo—and evidence of plastic surgery suggesting “Father Flores” may not be the man his parishioners thought. Now, as Eve pieces together clues that suggest identity theft, gang connections, and a deeply personal act of revenge, she hopes to track down whoever committed this unholy act. Until a second murder—in front of an even larger crowd of worshippers—knocks the whole investigation sideways...
About the Author
Date of Birth:1950
Place of Birth:Silver Spring, Maryland
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Table of Contents
TITLES BY J. D. ROBB
Naked in Death
Glory in Death
Immortal in Death
Rapture in Death
Ceremony in Death
Vengeance in Death
Holiday in Death
Midnight in Death
Conspiracy in Death
Loyalty in Death
Witness in Death
Judgment in Death
Betrayal in Death
Interlude in Death
Seduction in Death
Reunion in Death
Purity in Death
Portrait in Death
Imitation in Death
Divided in Death
Visions in Death
Survivor in Death
Origin in Death
Memory in Death
Born in Death
Innocent in Death
Creation in Death
Strangers in Death
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Robb, J. D., date.
Salvation in death / J. D. Robb.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
AT THE MASS OF THE DEAD, THE PRIEST PLACED the wafer of unleavened bread and the cheap red wine on the linen corporal draping the altar. Both paten and chalice were silver. They had been gifts from the man inside the flower-blanketed coffin resting at the foot of the two worn steps that separated priest from congregation.
The dead had lived a hundred and sixteen years. Every day of those years he’d lived as a faithful Catholic. His wife had predeceased him by a mere ten months, and every day of those ten months he’d grieved for her.
Now his children, grandchildren, great- and great-great-grandchildren filled the pews of the old church in Spanish Harlem. Many lived in the parish, and many more returned to it to mourn, and to pay their respects. Both his surviving brothers attended the rite, as did cousins, nieces, nephews, friends, and neighbors, so the living packed those pews, the aisles, the vestibule to honor the dead with the ancient rite.
Hector Ortiz had been a good man, who’d led a good life. He’d died peacefully in his bed, surrounded by photographs of his family and the many images of Jesus, Mary, and his favorite saint, Lawrence. St. Lawrence had been grilled to death for his faith and in the way of irony became the patron saint of restaurateurs.
Hector Ortiz would be missed; he would be mourned. But the long, good life and easy death lent a flavor of peace and acceptance to the Requiem Mass—and those who wept shed the tears more for themselves than for the departed. Their faith assured them, the priest thought, of Hector Ortiz’s salvation. And as the priest performed the ritual, so familiar, he scanned the faces of the mourners. They looked to him to lead them in this final tribute.
Flowers and incense and the smoking wax of candles mixed and merged their scents in the air. A mystical fragrance. The smell of power and presence.
The priest solemnly bowed his head over the symbols of flesh and blood before washing his hands.
He’d known Hector, and in fact had heard his confession—his last, as it came to be—only a week before. So, Father Flores mused as the congregation rose, the penance had been the last Hector had been given.
Flores spoke to the congregation, and they to him, the familiar words of the Eucharistic Prayer, and through to the Sanctus.
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might.”
The words and those following were sung, as Hector had loved the music of the Mass. Those mixed voices rose up, tangling in the magically scented air. The congregation knelt—a baby’s fretful wail, a dry cough, rustles, whispers—for the Consecration.
The priest waited for them to quiet, for the silence. For the moment.
Flores implored the power of the Holy Spirit to take the gifts of wafer and wine and transform them into the body and blood of Christ. And moved, according to the rite, as representative of the Son of God.
And while the crucified Christ looked down from behind the altar, Flores knew he himself held the power now. Held that presence.
“Take this, all of you, and eat it. For this is my body,” Flores said, holding up the host, “which will be given up for you.”
The bells rang; heads bowed.
“Take this and drink it. This is the cup of my blood.” He raised the chalice. “The blood of a new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for others for the forgiveness of sin. Do this in memory of me.”
“Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”
They prayed, and the priest wished them peace. They wished peace to each other. And again, raising voices, they sang—Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us—while the priest broke the host, placed a piece of it in the chalice. The ministers moved forward, stopping short of the altar as the priest lifted the chalice to his lips.
He was dead the moment he drank the blood.
St. Cristóbal’s Church in Spanish Harlem knelt quietly between a bodega and a pawnshop. It boasted a small gray steeple and was innocent of the graffiti that tagged its near-neighbors. Inside, it smelled of candles, flowers, and furniture polish. Like a nice, suburban home might smell.
At least it struck Lieutenant Eve Dallas that way as she strode down the aisle formed by rows of pews. In the front, a man in black shirt, black pants, and white collar sat with his head bowed and his hands folded.
She wasn’t sure if he was praying or just waiting, but he wasn’t her priority. She skirted around the glossy casket all but buried in red and white carnations. The dead guy inside wasn’t her priority either.
She engaged her lapel recorder, but when she started to climb the two short steps to the platform that held the altar—and her priority—her partner plucked at Eve’s arm.
“Um, I think we’re supposed to, like, genuflect.”
“I never genuflect in public.”
“No, seriously.” Peabody’s dark eyes scanned the altar, the statues. “It’s like holy ground up there or something.”
“Funny, it looks like a dead guy up there to me.”
Eve walked up. Behind her, Peabody gave a one-legged bounce before following.
“Victim has been identified as Miguel Flores, age thirty-five, Catholic priest,” Eve began. “The body’s been moved.” She flicked a glance up to one of the uniforms securing the scene.
“Yes, sir. The victim collapsed during Mass, and there was an attempt to revive him while the nine-one-ones were placed. A couple of cops were on scene attending the funeral. That guy’s funeral,” he added with a chin point at the casket. “They moved people back, secured. They’re waiting to talk to you.”
Since she’d sealed her hands and feet before coming in, Eve crouched. “Get prints, TOD, and so on, for the record, Peabody. And for the record, the victim’s cheeks are bright pink. Facial injuries, left temple and cheekbone, most likely incurred when he fell.”
She glanced up, noted the silver chalice on the stained white linen. She rose, walked to the altar, sniffed at the cup. “He drink from this? What was he doing when he collapsed?”
“Taking Communion,” the man in the front row answered before the uniform could speak.
Eve stepped to the other side of the altar. “Do you work here?”
“Yes. This is my church.”
“I’m the pastor.” He rose, a compact and muscular man with sad, dark eyes. “Father López. Miguel was officiating the funeral mass, and was taking Communion. He drank, and he seemed, almost immediately, to seize. His body shook, and he gasped for air. And he collapsed.” López spoke with the faintest of accents, an exotic sheen over rough wood. “There were doctors and other medicals here, and they tried to revive him, but it was too late. One said, one thought, it was poison. But I don’t believe that could be.”
López merely lifted his hands. “Who would poison a priest in such a way, and at such a time?”
“Where did the wine come from? In the cup?”
“We keep Communion wine locked in the tabernacle, in the anteroom.”
“Who has access?”
“I do. Miguel, Martin—that is, Father Freeman—the Eucharistic ministers serving the Mass.”
A lot of hands, Eve thought. Why bother with a lock? “Where are they?”
“Father Freeman is visiting family in Chicago, and expected back tomorrow. We have—had—three ministers today due to the large attendance at the Requiem Mass.”
“I’ll need their names.”
“Surely you can’t believe—”
He actually paled when Eve lifted the silver disk holding the wafer. “Please. Please. It’s been consecrated.”
“I’m sorry, now it’s evidence. There’s a piece missing. Did he eat it?”
“A small piece is broken off, put in the wine for the rite of fraction and commingling. He would have consumed it with the wine.”
“Who put the wine in the cup and the . . .” What the hell did she call it? Cookie? Cracker?
“Host,” López supplied. “He did. But I poured the wine into the receptacle and placed the host for Miguel before the Consecration. I did it personally as a sign of respect for Mr. Ortiz. Miguel officiated, at the family’s request.”
Eve cocked her head. “They didn’t want the head guy? Didn’t you say you were the head guy?”
“I’m pastor, yes. But I’m new. I’ve only had this parish for eight months, since Monsignor Cruz retired. Miguel’s been here for more than five years, and married two of Mr. Ortiz’s great-grandchildren, officiated at the Requiem for Mrs. Ortiz about a year ago. Baptized—”
“Just one minute, please.”
Eve turned back to Peabody.
“Sorry to interrupt, Father. ID match,” Peabody told Eve. “TOD jibes. Drink, seize, collapse, die, red cheeks. Cyanide?”
“Educated guess. We’ll let Morris confirm. Bag the cup, the cookie. Pick one of the cop witnesses and get a statement. I’ll take the other after I have López show me the source of the wine and the other thing.”
“Should we release the other dead guy?”
Eve frowned at the casket. “He’s waited this long. He can wait a little longer.” She turned back to López. “I need to see where you keep the . . .” Refreshments? “The wine and the hosts.”
With a nod, López gestured. He walked up, turned away from the altar to lead Eve through a doorway. Inside cabinets lined one wall, and on a table stood a tall box, deeply carved with a cross. López took keys from the pocket of his pants and unlocked the door of the box.
“This is the tabernacle,” he explained. “It holds unconsecrated hosts and wine. We keep a larger supply in the first cabinet there, also locked.”
The wood gleamed with polish, she noted, and would hold prints. The lock was a simple key into a slot. “This decanter here is where you took the wine for the cup?”
“Yes. I poured it from here to the vessel, and took the host. I brought them to Miguel at the beginning of the Eucharistic Liturgy.”
Purplish liquid filled the clear decanter to about the halfway point. “Did the substances leave your hands at any time before that, or were they unattended?”
“No. I prepared them, kept them with me at all times. To do otherwise would be disrespectful.”
“I have to take this into evidence.”
“I understand. But the tabernacle can’t leave the church. Please, if you need to examine it, can it be done here? I’m sorry,” he added, “I never asked your name.”
“You’re not Catholic.”
“What gave you the first clue?”
He smiled a little, but the misery never left his eyes. “I understand you’re unfamiliar with the traditions and rites of the church, and some may seem strange to you. You believe someone tampered with the wine or the host.”
Eve kept both her face and her voice neutral. “I don’t believe anything yet.”
“If this is so, then someone used the blood and body of Christ to kill. And I delivered them to Miguel. I put them in his hands.” Beneath the misery in his eyes, Eve saw the banked embers of anger. “God will judge them, Lieutenant. But I believe in earthly laws as well as God’s laws. I’ll do whatever I can to help you in your work.”
“What kind of priest was Flores?”
“A good one. Compassionate, dedicated, ah, energetic, I’d say. He enjoyed working with young people, and was particularly good at it.”
“Any trouble recently? Depression, stress?”
“No. No. I would have known, I would have seen it. We live together, the three of us, in the rectory behind the church.” He gestured vaguely, as if his mind was crowded with a dozen other thoughts. “We eat together almost daily, talk, argue, pray. I would’ve seen if he’d been troubled. If you think he might have taken his own life, he wouldn’t. And he would never do so in such a way.”
“Any trouble with anyone? Someone with a grudge, or a problem with him—professionally or otherwise?”
“Not that he mentioned, and as I said, we talked daily.”
“Who knew he’d be doing the funeral today?”
“Everyone. Hector Ortiz was a fixture in the parish. A well-loved and well-respected man. Everyone knew about the funeral mass, and that Miguel was officiating.”
As she spoke, she crossed to a door, opened it. The May sunlight beamed through the exit. The door had a lock, she noted, nearly as simple as the one on the wooden box.
Easy in, easy out.
“Were there any masses earlier today?” she asked López.
“The six o’clock weekday Mass. I officiated.”
“And the wine, the host came from the same supply as the funeral mass?”
“Who got it for you?”
“Miguel. It’s a small service, usually no more than a dozen people, maybe two. Today, we expected less as the funeral would be so well attended.”
Come in, Eve mused, attend Mass. Go back, poison the wine. Walk away. “About how many did you bring in this morning?”
“At morning Mass? Ah . . . Eight or nine.” He paused a moment, and Eve imagined him going back, counting heads. “Yes, nine.”
“I’ll need that list, too. Any unfamiliar faces in that one?”
“No. I knew everyone who attended. A small group, as I said.”
“And just you and Flores. Nobody assisting.”
“Not for the six o’clock. We don’t generally use a minister for the morning weekday service, except during Lent.”
“Okay. I’d like you to write down, as best you can remember, the vic’s—Flores’s movements and activities this morning, and the times.”
“I’ll do that right away.”
“I’m going to need to secure this room as part of the crime scene.”
“Oh.” Distress covered his face. “Do you know how long?”
“I don’t.” She knew she was brusque, but something about all the . . . holiness made her twitchy. “If you’d give me your keys it would be simpler. How many sets are there?”
“These, and a set at the rectory. I’ll need my key to the rectory.” He took a single key off the chain, gave Eve the rest.
“Thanks. Who was Ortiz and how did he die?”
“Mr. Ortiz?” A smile, warmer, moved into his eyes. “A fixture of the community, and this parish, as I said. He owned a family restaurant a few blocks from here. Abuelo’s. Ran it, I’m told, with his wife up until about ten years ago, when one of his sons and his granddaughter took over. He was a hundred and sixteen, and died quietly—and I hope painlessly—in his sleep. He was a good man, and well loved. I believe he’s already in God’s hands.”
He touched the cross he wore, a light brush of fingers. “His family is understandably distressed by what happened this morning. If I could contact them, and we could complete the Requiem Mass and hold the Commitment. Not here,” López said before Eve could speak. “I’d make arrangements, but they need to bury their father, grandfather, their friend. They need to complete the ritual. And Mr. Ortiz should be respected.”
She understood duty to the dead. “I need to speak to someone else now. I’ll try to move this along. And I’ll need you to wait for me at the rectory.”
“I’m a suspect.” The idea didn’t appear to shake him or surprise him. “I gave Miguel the weapon that may have killed him.”
“That’s right. And right at the moment, pretty much anyone who walked into the church and gained access to this room is a suspect. Hector Ortiz gets a pass, but that’s about it.”
He smiled again at that, just a little. “You can probably eliminate the infants and toddlers, of which there were scores.”
“I don’t know. Toddlers are pretty suspicious. We’ll need to take a look at Flores’s room at the rectory. As soon as I can, I’ll see about moving Mr. Ortiz from the scene.”
“Thank you. I’ll wait at home.”
Eve led him out, locked the door, then told the closest uniform to bring in the second police witness.
While she waited, she circled Flores again. Good-looking guy, she mused. About six feet—hard to tell body type with the funny robes, but she’d scanned his official ID. That had him weighing in at a trim one-sixty.
He had even features, a lot of dark hair with a few glints of silver running through it. Smoother, she thought, than López. Leaner, younger.
She supposed priests came in all types and sizes, just like regular people.
Priests weren’t supposed to have sex. She’d have to ask somebody the root of that rule, if she found it could apply. Some priests also ignored the rule, and got their jollies, just like regular people. Maybe Flores didn’t care for celibacy.
Maybe he’d diddled the wrong person. Angry lover or angry spouse of lover. Worked particularly well with young people, she mused. Maybe he liked to poke into the underage well. Vengeful parent.
Eve turned to see a hot number in sedate black. Petite would be the word, Eve supposed, as the woman hit maybe five-five in her black dress heels. Her hair was jet black as well, sleeked back into a quiet knot. She had huge, almond-shaped eyes in a kind of simmering green.
“Graciela Ortiz. Officer Ortiz,” she added, almost as an afterthought.
“Officer.” Eve came down from the altar. “You’re related to Mr. Ortiz.”
“Poppy. My great-grandfather.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you. He lived so well, and long. Now he’s with the angels. But Father Flores . . .”
“You don’t think he’s with the angels?”
“I hope he is. But he didn’t live long, or die peacefully in his bed. I’ve never seen death like that.” She took a breath, and there was a shudder in it. “I should have acted more quickly, to preserve the scene. My cousin and I—Matthew is with Illegals—should have acted sooner. But I was closer. Matt was in the back of the church. I thought—we all thought—Father had had some sort of attack. Dr. Pasquale and my uncle, who is also a doctor, tried to help him. It happened very quickly. In minutes. Three, four, no more than that. So the body was moved, and the scene compromised. I’m sorry.”
“Tell me what happened.”
Graciela relayed the events, set the scene as López had.
“Did you know Flores?”
“Yes, a little. He married my brother. I mean to say he officiated at the marriage of my brother. Father Flores also gave time to the youth center. I do the same, when I can, so I knew him from there.”
“Outgoing, interested. He seemed to relate to the street kids. I thought he’d probably been there and done that in his time.”
“Did he show any interest in any particular kid or kids?”
“Not that I noticed. But I didn’t run into him there often.”
“He ever move on you?”
“Move . . . No.” Graciela seemed shocked, then thoughtful. “No, no moves, no sense he considered it. And I never heard of him breaking that particular vow.”
“Would you have?”
“I don’t know, but my family—and there are a lot of them—is very involved in the church and this is our home parish. If he was going to move on someone, odds are the someone would’ve been related or connected to the Ortiz family. And family gossip runs pretty hot and strong. My aunt Rosa housekeeps for the rectory and not much gets by her.”
“O’Donnell.” Graciela smiled. “We diversify. Is it homicide, Lieutenant?”
“Right now it’s suspicious death. You might talk to family members, get their impressions.”
“Nobody’s going to be talking about much else for days,” Graciela commented. “I’ll see what I can find out from those who knew him better than I did.”
“Okay. I’m going to have your great-grandfather released from the scene. You and your cousin should take that detail as soon as we’re clear.”
“We appreciate that.”
“Where’s your house?”
“I’m with the two-two-three, here in East Harlem.”
“How long on the job?”
“Almost two years. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, changed my mind.”
Probably change it again, Eve thought. She just didn’t see a cop in those sizzling green eyes. “I’m going to get my partner, and we’ll clear the casket. If anything regarding Flores occurs to you, you can reach me at—”
“Cop Central,” Graciela finished. “I know.”
As Graciela clicked out on her funeral heels, Eve took one more scan of the crime scene. A lot of death for one small church, she mused. One in the coffin, one at the altar, and the one looking down on both from the really big cross.
One dies in his sleep after a long life, one dies fast—and the other gets spikes hammered through his hands and feet so they can hang him on a cross of wood.
God, priest, and the faithful, she thought. To her way of thinking, God got the worst deal of the three.
I can’t decide,” Peabody said as they walked around to the rectory, “if the statues and candles and colored glass are really pretty or really creepy.”
“Statues are too much like dolls, and dolls are creepy. You keep expecting them to blink. And the ones that smile, like this?” Eve kept her lips tight together as she curved them up. “You know they’ve got teeth in there. Big, sharp, shiny teeth.”
“I didn’t. But now I’ve got to worry about it.”
The small, unimposing building that housed the rectory had flowers in a pair of window boxes—and, Eve noted, minimum security. A standard lock, those flower-decked windows open to the spring air, and no palm plate, no security cameras.
She knocked, then stood on long legs in simple trousers, on feet planted in worn boots. The pale gray blazer she’d shrugged on that morning covered her weapon harness. The frisky May breeze fluttered through her short, brown hair. Like her legs, her eyes were long, a whiskey brown. They didn’t sizzle like Graciela’s—and were all cop.
The woman who answered had an explosion of dark curls tipped with gold around a pretty face. Her red-rimmed eyes scanned Eve, then Peabody. “I’m sorry, Father López is unable to take visitors today.”
“Lieutenant Dallas, NYPSD.” Eve drew out her badge. “And Detective Peabody.”
“Yes, of course. Forgive me. Father said to expect you. Please come in.”
She stepped back. She wore a red carnation on the lapel of her black mourning suit—and both over a beautifully curved body. “It’s a terrible day for the parish, for my family. I’m Rosa O’Donnell. My grandfather . . . It was his funeral mass, you see. Father is in his office. He gave me this for you.” She held out an envelope. “You asked him to write out what Father Flores did today.”
“I’m to let Father know if you need to see him.”
“No need at this time. You can tell him that we’ve released Mr. Ortiz. My partner and I need to see Father Flores’s room.”
“I’ll show you upstairs.”
“You cook for the rectory,” Eve began as they moved from the tiny foyer to the stairs.
“Yes, and clean. Some of this, some of that. Three men, even priests, need someone to pick up after them.”
The stairs rose straight to a narrow hallway. The walls were white and adorned here and there with crucifixes or pictures of people in robes looking benign or—to Eve’s eye—sorrowful. Occasionally annoyed.
“You knew Father Flores,” Eve prompted.
“Very well, I think. You cook and clean for a man, you come to know who he is.”
“Who was he?”
Rosa paused outside a door, sighed. “A man of faith, and humor. He enjoyed sports, watching them, playing them. He had . . . energy,” she decided. “And put much of that into the youth center.”
“How did he get along with his housemates? The other priests,” Eve explained when Rosa looked blank.
“Very well. There was respect between him and Father López, and I’d say they were friendly. Easy with each other, if you understand.”
“He was friendlier, well, closer, you know, with Father Freeman—they had more in common, I’d say, outside the church. Sports. He and Father Freeman would argue about sports, as men do. Go to games together. They ran together most mornings, and often played ball at the center.”
Rosa sighed again. “Father López is contacting Father Freeman now, to tell him. It’s very hard.”
“And Flores’s family?”
“He had none. He would say the church was his family. I believe his parents died when he was a boy.” She opened the door. “He never had calls or letters from family, as Fathers López and Freeman often do.”
“What about other calls, other letters?”
“Who was he connected to? Friends, teachers, old schoolmates.”
“I . . . I don’t know.” Her brows drew together. “He had many friends in the parish, of course, but if you mean from outside, or from before, I don’t know.”
“Did you notice anything off—in his mood, his routine, recently?”
“No, nothing.” Rosa shook her head. “I came in to fix breakfast for him and Father López this morning, before the funeral. He was very kind.”
“What time did you get here?”
“Ah . . . about six-thirty, a few minutes later than that.”
“Was anyone else here?”
“No. I let myself in. I have a key, though. As usual, Father López forgot to lock up. The fathers came back from Mass shortly after, and I gave them breakfast. We all talked about the service, then Father Flores went into the office to work on his sermon.”
She pressed her fingertips to her lips. “How could this have happened?”
“We’ll find out. Thank you,” Eve said by way of dismissal, then stepped into the room.
It held a narrow bed, a small dresser and mirror, a night table, a desk. No house ’link, she noted, no computer. The bed looked to be neatly made, and over its head a picture of Christ on the cross hung next to a crucifix. Seemed like overkill to Eve.
There were no personal photographs in evidence, no loose credits scattered over the dresser. She saw a Bible, a rosary of black and silver and a lamp on the bedside table, a comb and a pocket ’link on the dresser.
“That explains why he didn’t have a ’link on him,” Peabody commented. “I guess they don’t take them when they do a service.” As she turned, the sassy little flip at the ends of her dark hair bounced. “Well, I guess this won’t take long, considering he didn’t have a whole lot.”
“Take a look in the other rooms. Just a scan from the doorway. See if they’re the same as this.”
As Peabody went out, Eve opened a dresser drawer with her sealed hand. White boxers, white undershirts, white socks, black socks. She pawed through, found nothing else. Another drawer held T-shirts. White, black, gray—some with team logos emblazoned on the front.
“They’ve got more stuff,” Peabody announced. “Photographs, man junk.”
“Define ‘man junk,’ ” Eve said as she drew out the bottom drawer.
“Golf ball on a display tee, pile of discs, a pair of boxing gloves, that kind of thing.”
“Check the closet here.” Eve drew the bottom drawer all the way out, checked the bottom, the back.
“Priest’s suits, two sets with pants, and one of those dresses. A pair of black shoes that look worn, two pairs of high-tops, one pair looks shot. Shelf . . .” Peabody paused as she rummaged. “Cooler-weather gear. Two sweaters, two sweatshirts, one hooded sweat jacket—Knicks.”
After checking all the drawers, backs, bottoms, sides, Eve pulled the small dresser out from the wall, checked the back of the mirror.
With Peabody, she moved to the desk. It held a date book, a few memo cubes, a short stack of brochures on the youth center, the Yankees’ schedule, and another for the Knicks.
Eve checked the last entries in the date book. “Vigil for Ortiz at the funeral home last night. Yankees game Wednesday. Let’s see if anyone went with him. He’s scheduled for FHC—need to find out what that is—for a week from this coming Sunday at two. Got a few games and sessions at the youth center on here. Pre-C counseling. Need to get the meaning of that. Two of those—last Monday and Tuesday. Names of whoever he was counseling in here. We’ll run them down. The funeral’s on here. A teaching gig at St. Cristóbal’s Friday, a baptism a week from Saturday. All priestly, except for the Yankees.”
She bagged the date book. “Take a look at the ’link,” she told Peabody, then began on the little night table.
She flipped through the Bible, found a few small pictures of saints. In Hebrews, she read an underscored line: And thus, having had long patience, he got the promise. And in Proverbs: With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity.
Interesting. She bagged the Bible for evidence. Inside the drawer were a couple more community flyers, and a mini-game player. She found a silver medal taped behind the drawer. “Well, well. Why does a priest tape a religious medal behind a drawer?”
Peabody stopped her own search. “What kind of medal?”
“It’s a woman, with the robe thing, hands folded, and it looks like she’s standing on a pillow or something with a little kid holding her up.”
“It’s probably the Virgin Mary, and the Baby Jesus. And, yeah, weird place for a medal.”
Carefully, Eve peeled the tape away, turned the freed medal over. “Lino, May La Virgen de Guadalupe watch over you—Mama. Dated May 12, 2031.”
“Rosa said she thought his parents died when he was a boy—and he’d have been about six at this date,” Peabody commented. “Maybe Lino’s a nickname, a term of affection in Spanish?”
“Maybe. Why tape it to the back of a drawer instead of wearing it, or keeping it in a drawer? Are priests allowed to wear jewelry?” Eve wondered.
“Probably not big honking rings or chains, but I’ve seen them wearing crosses and medals and stuff.” To get a closer look, Peabody squatted down. “Like that sort of thing.”
“Yeah. Yeah. So why is this hidden? You hide something so nobody sees it, and you hide it close when you want to look at it in private now and then. This mattered to him, whether it was his, a friend’s or relative’s, or he picked it up in a secondhand store, it mattered. It looks like silver,” she murmured, “but it’s not tarnished. You have to polish silver to keep it shiny.”
After another study, she bagged it. “Maybe we can trace it. What about the ’link?”
“Logged transmissions, in and out from Roberto Ortiz—that would be the late Mr. Ortiz’s oldest surviving son. A couple to and from the youth center, and the oldest last week to Father Freeman.”
“Okay, we’ll have a look and listen. Let’s call the sweepers in for a pass, then I want this room sealed.”
She thought of the two underlined passages, and wondered what riches and honor Flores waited for.
IT WAS A LONG WAY FROM SPANISH HARLEM TO the Lower West Side and Cop Central. Long enough to have Peabody do the initial run on Miguel Flores and recite the salients while Eve maneuvered through traffic for a large chunk of Manhattan’s length and breadth.
“Miguel Ernesto Flores,” Peabody read from her PPC. “Born February six, 2025 in Taos, New Mexico. Parents, Anna Santiago Flores and Constantine Flores, were both killed when their bodega was robbed, summer of 2027. The mother was seven months pregnant.”
“They get them?”
“They got them. Two guys, barely eighteen, and both serving life sentences. No parole. Flores was put in the system.”
“The inscription was dated ’31—and his mother had been dead four years by then. So who’s Mama?”
“Maybe foster mother?”
“Early education, State, but private Catholic high school and college.”
“Private?” Eve interrupted, and snarled when a Rapid Cab cut her off. “Takes dough.”
“Yeah. Maybe a scholarship? I’ll check on that. He entered the seminary straight out of college, spent several years working and living in Mexico. Held dual citizenship. Transferred to St. Cristóbal’s November of 2054. Huh, there’s a lag here, though. His last position was at a mission in Jarez until 2053, June.”
“So where was Flores for over a year, and what was he doing? He had to have a boss—like López. A pastor or whatever. Let’s find out. Any youthful high jinks of the criminal variety?”
“Nothing here, and no flag indicating a sealed record.”
“Private Catholic education’s gotta be pricey. Unless there was a scholarship, and it covered most of the ground, how did he afford it? Where’d the money come from? We’re going to need to peel some layers.”
Eve frowned as she skirted around a maxibus. “The vic had a wrist unit on him—cheap one—and just under forty dollars in his wallet. Who pays these guys? Do they get paid? He had a standard ID, no credit or debit cards, no driver’s license. A silver cross.”
“Maybe the Pope pays them.” Peabody’s square face turned thoughtful. “Not directly, but he’s the head guy, so maybe it comes from him. I mean they must get paid something. They’ve got to live—buy food, clothes, pay for transportation.”
“Under forty on him, no money in his room. We’ll check bank accounts.” Eve tapped her fingers on the wheel. “Let’s go by the morgue, see if Morris has established COD.”
“If it was poison, it doesn’t feel like self-termination. Plus,” Peabody added, “I know Catholics are way against that, so it doesn’t skew right for a priest to off himself.”
“Pretty harsh to do it in front of a church full of people at a funeral service,” Eve commented. “Or . . . ironic. But no, it doesn’t play. Wit statements are that he was moving right through the service, SOP. If you’re going to knock back some wine laced with poison, even if you’re dead—ha-ha—set on it, you’d show some nerves, some hesitation. A little moment of: Okay, here goes nothing. Whatever.”
“Maybe it wasn’t target specific. Maybe whoever laced the wine just wanted to kill a priest. Like a religious vendetta.”
“It wasn’t in the wine for the morning service, and it was in—if it was—for the funeral. Maybe somebody snuck in, broke into the box-thing, laced the wine without knowing who’d be taking the first drink. But my vote is Flores was the target.”
But she’d hold her report in reserve until she talked to Morris.
Into the chilly, artificial air, death slipped and snuck—the god of all thieves. No amount of filtering, sealing or cleaning could quite banish the insidiously sweet and human smell. Used to it, Eve wound through the white, harshly lit corridors of the morgue—thought fleetingly about hitting Vending for a tube of Pepsi to kick up the caffeine level—and pushed open one of the doors of an autopsy room.
It surprised her to be immediately assaulted with the romantic perfume of roses. They stood, red as fresh blood, on one of the rolling tables used to hold the nasty tools of the trade performed there. Eve studied the small forest of them, and wondered if the naked corpse behind them appreciated their elegance.
Elegant, too, was the man who hummed along with the choral music drifting through the rose- and death-scented air. Chief Medical Examiner Morris wore black today, but there was nothing ghoulish or funereal in the sharply tailored suit. The lightning-bolt blue T-shirt—probably silk—kicked it up a notch, Eve supposed. He’d pinned one of the red rosebuds to his lapel, and wound red and blue cords through his long black ponytail.
The clear, protective cloak didn’t diminish the style, and when he turned his exotic eyes to her and smiled, Eve had to admit that kicked it up another notch.
“Nice flowers,” she commented.
“Aren’t they? A token from a friend. I decided to bring them in. They class up the place, don’t you think?”
“They’re mag.” Peabody walked over, took a sniff. “Man, there are like two dozen easy. Some token.”
It was an obvious ploy for more information, but Morris only continued to smile. “She’s a very good friend. It occurred to me I should have had flowers in here before. It’s traditional, after all, to bring them to the dead.”
“Why is that?” Eve wondered.
“I believe they’re symbolic of a resurrection, a kind of rebirth. Which,” Morris continued, “your current interest should appreciate. Along with, I hope, the music. Mozart’s ‘Requiem.’ ”
What People are Saying About This
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