|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.61(d)|
"In to the shade of Madness Comes a willing Priest Falling into Shadow Plot."
4:00 P.M, Saturday, October 31, 1936
The afternoon sun glazed the tops of the Coast Range Mountains in the west, casting a coral glow over Portland. Patches of cerulean sky peaked behind darkening clouds creating a watercolor painting.
Lizabet McNearney whispered to herself, "Red sky at night, sailors' delight." However, what she was about to do was definitely not a delight.
She pulled the wrinkled telegram from her purse and held it up next to the light of the taxi's window. It was dated October 2, 1936, addressed to her apartment in Rome a month earlier, and read:
"Miss Lizabet McNearney. STOP. With sorrow we advise your brother, Fr. Patrick J. McNearney, OFM, passed October 1, burial tomorrow Mount St Mary's, Portland. STOP. "
Liz folded the telegram and held it to her forehead, as if to divine further information from its cryptic message. Pat was only thirty-six, four years younger than she, healthy and from a line of "long-livers," as her mother had often said. What was the cause of death? And, who sent the wire to her from the Portland Diocese? She sighed and leaned back in her seat pondering those questions.
The sky darkened with her mood. Tears once again streamed down her cheeks. The clouds opened and rain began pelting the soft-top of the Hudson taxi like a crazed drummer. Water soon sloshed across the windshield obscuring the road ahead. The wipers made lazy swipes across the glass, leaving behind a veiled smudge of oil and road dirt that had collected on the windshield. When the driver stepped on the gas pedal going up the steep road, the vacuum-operated wiper stopped; when he let up, it resumed its smearing action.
Liz edged forward on the rear seat, straining to see out into the rain-soaked countryside. "Welcome to Portland," she whispered to herself as the driver slowed to stop the taxi.
"Sorry, Miss, you say something?"
"Nothing. Is this the place?" She wiped the fog from the side window with her coat sleeve and squinted. She saw the entrance to the cemetery in the rock wall where massive wrought-iron gates stood open, like two black hands reaching out to pull her inside. She shuddered and tugged on her wide-brimmed fedora.
"Sign says, 'Mount Saint Mary's Cemetery.' That's what you wanted." The driver faced her, his big right arm stretched across the back of his seat.
She nodded. Although she dreaded the depressing prospect that lay ahead, the singsong nursery rhyme sound of "Mary's Cemetery" made her smile.
Beyond those gates on the tombstone-studded hillside were the recently interred remains of her younger brother.
"Yes, this is it. Pull inside. Looks like the office is on the right." She aimed a black-gloved finger toward the building.
The thump of rain on the roof of the taxi lessened.
The cabbie slowly circled a fountain with a life-size bronze statue of the Virgin Mary atop a granite pedestal, just inside the entrance. He parked next to a dark, ivy-covered cottage where a light over the front door lit up a "CLOSED" sign. Liz checked the pendant watch pinned to her blouse. "It's only 3:00, you'd think the office would still be open."
"So, you still wanta get out?" the driver said, his eyes darting around for signs of life.
"Yes. As long as we're here." She removed a pack of Chesterfields from her handbag, tapped one into her hand, and lit it with her Dunhill lighter.
She started to open the door when the driver said, "You gotta umbrella?"
"Hell no, Oregonians never carry an umbrella."
He laughed. "You're right, Lady, but I'll get you one anyway." He got out and walked to the rear of the cab.
"Liz, what are you thinking?" She said aloud. "You didn't come all this way from Italy to sit in a frigging cab. Get going." She opened the rear door and uncoiled her tall frame from the Hudson, stretched to free the kinks in her back, much to the pleasure of the driver who eyed her statuesque figure.
He came forward and handed her a huge black umbrella with a bamboo handle. Taking it from him, she flicked her cigarette into a puddle and walked over to the office door. A sign read, "OPEN MON-THUR 9 TO 3." Below it she saw a typewritten note on a card, "Emergency - Call Capitol 8765 � Or ring for Sexton." An arrow pointed at a bell button on the doorframe.
Damn! It's Saturday, she recalled. Emergency? Sure why not. Hadn't she just traveled several thousand miles from her apartment in Rome, and hadn't Patrick called her from his grave?
According to her inquiry at the Portland Archdiocese office he had been found dead on October first, and was buried in this Catholic cemetery on the third; nothing more than she had already learned from the wire. The young man she had spoken to had, "No further information," or was not about to divulge anything. Liz's twenty years' experience in investigative reporting told her he had not been forthcoming. A long boat trip and an equally long boring train ride from New York had brought her home to Oregon as fast as modern transportation would allow.
"Ma'am, you want I should wait?" The cabbie stood, holding his coat over his head to shelter him from the now light rain.
"Yes, please." She reached over and pressed the doorbell button, and heard the sound of polite chimes coming from inside.
She closed the big umbrella, leaning on it like a cane. A face appeared in the window. When she leaned closer, eyes peering back at her widened and she was greeted with a toothless smile. Locks clicked and the door creaked opened inwardly.
"May I help you?" said a small, elderly man, bald-headed and rosy-cheeked. An odor of whiskey and tobacco emanated from his shabby clothing.
"Yes. Could you tell me where the priests are buried?"
"I surely can, Ma'am," he said examining her attire with interest.
She wore the same clothes since arriving by train three hours ago� mid-calf-length black skirt, white ruffled blouse, and a lavender tweed waistcoat. And, her twin-fox Kolinsky, the mouth of one animal clenched onto the tail of the other. Her high-heeled shoes she had purchased in Milano last month did nothing to play down her six-foot-two slender figure. Her choice of haut couture would have been fine at a Parisian funeral, but here in this rain-drenched cemetery in Portland, Oregon, she might as well have been an alien.
The old man finally ended his inspection of her and looked up into her emerald eyes. "They're up there," he pointed to the hillside behind her. "At the foot of the cross."
She spun around and followed his aim up the hill, then began walking away when the sexton called after her, "Anyone in particular?"
She raised her hand, and without speaking, waved him off. The path that led up the slope to the base of the large crucifix was paved with bricks, saving her from sinking her heels into the soggy grass. When she reached the top of the path, the late afternoon sun broke through the clouds again and painted the scene with a golden glow. She stepped onto a flagstone terrace and found several levels of graves, all meticulously trimmed.
The face of Christ on the towering crucifix above appeared to be studying her. At its base, white marble seraphim, wings spread in a protective sweep, safeguarded the Catholic priests who had gone to sit at the right hand of the Lord.
Liz began her search on the left, working her way up and across one level at a time. Her heels clicked loudly on the granite blocks. Horizontal white stone markers were aligned side-by-side in precise rows with gold crosses engraved above the names. After carefully examining each of them, she realized that the latest of the burials was a year ago.
"So. Where are you Patrick?" Liz spoke aloud. She stopped and looked down the row of priests' graves below her. None of them were recent interments. Re-checking each name carefully, making sure that she had not overlooked one, Liz realized that her dear Patrick was not here. She hung her head and began to cry, one of few truly heartfelt expressions of grief she had experienced since learning of his death. The long dreadful trip from Rome to this place was for nothing. Liz sat on a marble bench below the bronze crucifix and wept; exhausted from her long trip as well as from the mental turmoil she had endured during the past three weeks.
The rain started again and she opened the cabby's umbrella. After several minutes sitting with drops of rain thumping on the fabric, she took a deep breath and began walking back down the brick pathway.
The driver and the sexton were standing under the office awning, smoking.
"You find it, Ma'am?" the sexton asked.
"No. He's not there."
"What's his name?"
"McNearney. Father Patrick Joseph McNearney," she answered.
"Don't recall that name. When'd he die?"
"October first. He was pastor at Saint Catherine's."
The sexton's eyebrows shot upward and his mouth dropped open. "Oh, McNearney, you say?"
"Yes. You know the name?"
"I do. I'm sorry Ma'am; I sent you the wrong way. Was he a relative?" He stepped away from Liz.
"Okay. Well, he's not going to be where I sent you, he's over in�"
"Over where? Why wouldn't he be up there?" Liz straightened, hands on her hips.
The sexton backed off a few feet. "Well, I'm quite sure he's over in the Shadow Plots."
"The where?" She fired back.
"Shadow Plots, Ma'am. On the other side of the wall, there," he said, pointing behind him, "Down the hill in that grove of pin oaks."
Liz spun around and followed the direction of his scrawny finger. A hundred yards to her right, down an unkempt hillside, she saw a low rock wall and a red-rusted gate.
"There?" she asked, astonished by the change in attitude of the sexton.
Standing next to the old man, the cabbie shuffled his feet. "Still want me to wait?" He tapped his watch and looked toward his taxi.
"Yes, Dammit! Wait!"
The sexton looked at her in amazement and the cabbie doffed his cap.
"Yes Ma'am, I'll wait right here."
A narrow muddy path led down toward the dark trees. She had to tiptoe to keep from sinking her heels into the soft clay.
At the bottom, she came to a rock-piled wall and an open gate. Stepping through the entrance, she entered a rough plot of ground, no more than 50 by 50, a neglected area with grass and weeds ankle deep. Under the canopy of the oaks, still laden with crusty brown leaves, she walked into darkness, thick and dense as ink-black velvet. A dank musty odor of newly turned earth hung in the air.
Most of the burial plots were overgrown and the headstone inscriptions obscured. Her eyes, now accustomed to the dark, focused on the fresh soil, heaped in an oblong outline. Wilted rose petals were strewn about the yellow-ochre soil. Liz stepped slowly toward the plot. In the scant light that filtered through the oak trees, she spotted a simple black marble marker, with the inscription, "P.J. McNearney." Kneeling, she also saw that the stone did not bear the cross that she had seen on the priest's graves on the hill.
She dropped to her knees over the burial plot. Tears welled from her eyes and her heart swelled in unbearable pain.
"Why, Patrick? What in God's name have they done to you?" She stood, and wiped her tears away with her gloved hand.
From behind her, a low voice whispered, "Miss, can I help you?" She looked over her shoulder, saw the sexton standing at the gate, and nodded.
"Yes. Why is my brother in this horrible place?"
"The shadow plots are for those forsaken by the church." He swept his open palm toward the poorly maintained graves.
"Why on earth would they do that?" Her voice raised enough to cause the sexton to look sheepishly away from her.
"Can't bury someone in consecrated ground who dies with mortal sins on his soul," his voice apologetic. "You know, like suicide, for example." He pointed downward at Patrick's plot.
"My brother would never commit suicide!" she snapped.
"I'm terribly sorry, Ma'am, I wouldn't know much about that, only what I hear from the office. Don't tell anyone I said that."
"What about these other graves," she said, aiming her finger at the weed-covered plots, "They can't all be suicides, can they?"
"No. I don't expect they are. A few may be murderers and such. Catholics that fell from grace, I'd say." His mouthed drooped and his blank eyes stared at the ground, avoiding eye contact.
She brushed the dead leaves from her knees and straightened her skirt. It was then she noticed a single wilted white carnation with a note attached to the stem. The flower must have been placed recently, the burial almost a month past. She leaned down to retrieve it and examined the small card held in place with a rusty pin.
"See you in Hell! Silly Mee."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Linda Thatcher (Portland) "Gives a great "feel" for the 1930's Depression-era Portland, Oregon, which is so different from the city today. History buffs will love all the references to the city, travel, communication and the Catholic Church then. A good story of a sister tracking down the killer of her brother, with a little help from unexpected sources. Love the character of Liz--very much a modern independent woman who easily could have been a role model for today. Waiting for the next one in the series!"
Could not put it down, nothing else got done today except just what had to get accomplished. Thanks, Will look forward to the next one!" Louise Clark