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Lost Bitches

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Between Lights and Death





A Shared Darkness



Book One of a

Stratham Town Father Andrew Trilogy





Gerald Lopez

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Table of Contents

Copyright Information



Copyright © 2017 by Gerald Lopez



All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

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, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.





Cover Art Copyright © 2017 by Gerald Lopez



Acknowledgments



My special thanks go to Beta readers: Brandi, Joyce, Johanna, and anyone else whose name might have gotten away from me, for their comments, and often extremely helpful suggestions.



Table of Contents



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Chapter 74

Chapter 75

Chapter 76

Chapter 77

Chapter 78

Chapter 79

Chapter 80

Chapter 81

Chapter 82

Chapter 83

Chapter 84

Chapter 85

Chapter 86

Chapter 87

Chapter 88

Chapter 89

Chapter 90

Chapter 91

Chapter 92

Chapter 93

Chapter 94

Chapter 95

Chapter 96

Chapter 97

Chapter 98

Epilogue

Contact the author

About the author

Other books by Gerald Lopez





A Shared Darkness



Book One of a

Stratham Town Father Andrew Trilogy









Chapter 1



“WAIT, FATHER ANDREW. Father Andrew, please wait a second.”

Father Andrew Madera stopped walking and looked back to see a tall, slim, male student with golden, strawberry blond hair running his way.

The student who was dressed in shorts, a Polo shirt, and deck shoes stopped in front of Father Andrew to catch his breath. He bent over with his hands on his knees, breathing heavily. His backpack hung slack on one shoulder.

“You’re winded, Master Farragate,” Father Andrew said, with a mischievous smile on his face. “Maybe you should’ve taken your father’s suggestion to join the track team.”

“Not my thing, really, Father,” Vincent Farragate said as he stood straight. “And it’s Vincent, not Master Farragate. He looked into Father Andrew’s arresting green eyes and forgot what he was going to say. Those eyes always did seem to draw him in and touch his very soul.

“Cat got your tongue today,” Father Andrew said, then smiled. “I am in a hurry, I’ve got an appointment at St. Mary’s high school.”

“Can I walk with you to your car?” Vincent said.

“It’s a free world, you may do as you like.” Father Andrew smiled again as he began to walk along the sidewalk that was shaded by large, old trees covered in Spanish moss. “I’ll try to slow my pace down a bit, so you can keep up.”

“That’d be much appreciated,” Vincent said. “You’ve always had a fast stride. Were you on your school’s track team, Father?”

“No, I wasn’t one for sports.”

“Why’s that?” Vincent said.

“Maybe I’ve never been much of a team player.”

“That’s an awfully honest answer,” Vincent said, then waved to a girl who walked by.

“She’s got her eye on you, Vincent,” Father Andrew said.

“You called me Vincent.”

“Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“Yes,” Vincent said, “but I didn’t think you’d actually call me by my given name. Maybe it’s because I’m one of your older students here.”

“Twenty-three going on twenty-four isn’t so old,” Father Andrew said. “We have older students at this college.”

Vincent heard some birds singing and looked for them. They were sitting on the iron gate under the arched, stone entrance to the courtyard in front of the science buildings.

“I still think this is one of the most beautiful campuses I’ve ever been on,” Vincent said. “The Old World Spanish architecture of the buildings, the trees, and green spaces are all stunning.”

“And we also have a world-class organ in our campus church here,” Father Andrew said. “Is that why you ran after me—to confirm what I already know to be true?”

Vincent realized Father Andrew was teasing him and he smiled then spoke.

“I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your guest lecture in our English literature class today. Why don’t you teach full time? You’re an incredibly gifted teacher.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed the class. My duties overseeing this parish, the high school, and the college keep me very busy. Too busy to lecture. And I do love to teach that’s probably part of why you enjoyed the class so much.”

“You don’t let people in all the way, do you, Father?”

“Don’t I? What did you expect to hear?”

“I’m not really sure,” Vincent said.

The two men stopped walking and looked at one another for a moment.

“I’m glad you’re back home from your travels,” Father Andrew said. “One day we’ll have to get together so you can share your newest pictures with me.” He brushed back the front of Vincent’s hair which was long. “Your dad thinks you need a haircut.”

“And what do you think?”

“I’d leave it as is,” Father Andrew said. “It’s a good look on you.”

Vincent smiled, pleased at the answer he’d received. “Father, why are you overseeing both the high school and the college? You’ve been observing and looking into things here at the college for over a month now according to the e-mails you sent me.”

“I’m pretty much through overseeing the college now. But there’s not a whole lot of confidence in the current high school administration. I’ve been asked to check on things there by those above my station. The college has kept me so busy I haven’t actually made it to the high school in person yet. But the church has growing concerns and suspects something is happening there.”

“Are their suspicions warranted?”

“I don’t know, that’s what I’m on my way to find out.”

“Father Andrew, did my father ask you to keep an eye on me yet?”

“No. Besides, the school year has only just begun.”

“He will ask you know,” Vincent said.

“Probably,” Father Andrew said. “But I’m no man’s lackey.”

“I thought we were all servants of Christ,” Vincent said.

“Maybe so… yes, of course we are. But even servants, or those with the heart of a servant, must heed the voice of their true master.”

“Nicely put, Father. Very Nicely put. You never cease to impress me.”

“Thank you,” Father Andrew said, genuinely taken aback by the comment. “Would you like to ride along with me, Vince?”

“Hey now, I didn’t say you could call me Vince.”

“My apologies, Vincent.”

The two laughed.

“Are things so problematic at the High School that you need an extra set of eyes?” Vincent said.

Father Andrew looked at Vincent in a way that ran a chill up Vincent’s spine, but he didn’t say a word.

“I’ve hit the nail on the proverbial head, haven’t I?” Vincent said.

“Yes,” Father Andrew said. “I’m afraid you have. My car’s parked across from the art studios, do you think you can walk that far?” He chuckled.

“You’re deflecting from the topic at hand now.”

Father Andrew started walking again and Vincent kept by his side.

“I’m not deflecting, Vincent. I just don’t know that much about the situation at the high school yet.”

“Okay, Father, I believe you. If I remember correctly, priests aren’t allowed to lie.”

“You do remember correctly… but it doesn’t mean that some don’t.”

“Don’t go breaking a young man’s illusions, Father.”

“Do you have many illusions left?” Father Andrew said.

“No, not really.”

“Hello, Father,” A young girl said, then quickly looked at Vincent and giggled as she walked away.

“It’s the blue shirt you’re wearing,” Father Andrew said. “It flatters your hair and brings out the blue in your eyes.”

“Nice of you to notice.”

“I’m a very observant man,” Father Andrew said, “and it’s clear that the young women around here are quite taken with you.”

“At present I don’t have time for them,” Vincent said, “I’m here to get a degree. Despite my father’s intentions.”

“So is that what he’ll be calling me to talk about?”

“He’ll arrange a friendly lunch between the two of you then bring up the idea that I should be married and working toward providing him with an heir and my mother with a grandchild to spoil.”

“Twenty-three’s a bit young for that I think,” Father Andrew said.

“I happen to agree with you.”

“Here we are, just throw your backpack on the backseat,” Father Andrew said as he took his car clicker out of his pocket and pointed it toward an apple green Kia Soul.

“Nice car,” Vincent said, then walked to the passenger side and got in.

Father Andrew got in the driver’s side, put the key in the ignition, and started the vehicle. ‘While I’m driving you can tell me what’s really on your mind, Vincent.”



Chapter 2



“CAN A CAR BE considered a safe and sacred place?” Vincent said. “Is everything told to a priest in a car held as confidential as things said in a confessional?”

“I’m not the type of man or priest who would betray someone’s confession or secrets,” Father Andrew said, “whether they were told to me in a confessional or an outhouse.”

Vincent chuckled. “I can’t foresee an occasion where the two of us would be in an outhouse together.”

“Thank the Good Lord for that,” Father Andrew said, “although one never knows. We could be on a mission trip together and be sharing outhouse facilities.”

“Holes in the ground, Father. Outhouses in the mission field generally only have holes in the ground to use not facilities. The term “facilities” implies there would be porcelain and toilet paper.”

“And you would know all this… how?” Father Andrew said.

“I’ve seen pictures.”

They both chuckled.

“Oh, Father,” Vincent said and sighed. “There’s so much to tell. For now I’ll just mention that my parents have a girl picked out for me.”

“To date,” Father Andrew said.

“To marry.”

“Please, Vincent, these aren’t the dark ages and your parents aren’t Neanderthals.”

“And how would you know that? You know the part of them they show to the world, but I live with them.”

“That’s a true enough statement,” Father Andrew said. “How much do any of us really know about one another? Not much probably.”

“As a priest I would think you know more than most. People do come to you for confession.”

“Do you have something you want to confess, Vincent?”

“No, not yet.”

“If you don’t trust me I can find someone that’s a better fit.”

Vincent smiled. “A better fit, huh. We should be the perfect fit. You’ve been confessor to my entire family—at least before we joined the Episcopal church. Supposedly you know all our deep, dark secrets.”

“If I ever harbored the vanity that I did know all of your family’s secrets that illusion has now been shattered by you.”

“Sorry about that,” Vincent said, then looked down for a moment as he spoke. “I trust you completely, Andrew. Now’s just not the right time.”

“Understood… and that’s Father Andrew to you.”

Vincent looked at Andrew and smiled. “Don’t they ever let you change your suit.”

“I thought a black suit and Roman collar were a fashion classic,” Father Andrew said.

“In your world they are,” Vincent said. “Fill me in on what you know about the high school and its problems.”

“As I said before, there’s not much I’ve been told about the situation… other than there is one. Father Felix Boxton will be meeting us there to discuss what’s been happening.

“Do I know him?” Vincent said.

“No. He and I haven’t met before either. The church called him in to look at things.”

“Then there really is something of a serious nature going on at the high school,” Vincent said.

“Without a doubt.”

“What could it be?” Vincent said. “Problems with some of the teachers? Not a terrorist threat. Hold on, aren’t most of the teachers there Marianist brothers?”

“The majority, but not all,” Father Andrew said. “How did you know it’s run by the Marianists? Most people never bother to find out which specific religious order the brothers serve.”

“My mother told me about them. She’s rather fond of the brothers. Prefers them to nuns any day. Remember, my mother went to a school run by nuns.”

“I do remember her not being overly fond of nuns,” Father Andrew said and smiled. “There are a lot of good ones, though. Brother Michael is principal of the high school. He’s in his late forties. At forty-nine that would put him a year older than me.”

“Hardly, you just turned forty-eight.”

“Yes, and thank you again for the painting you sent me as a birthday present,” Father Andrew said. “To get back to the case at hand, Brother Michael is supposedly a strict disciplinarian.”

“Is he doing a competent job as principal?”

“Yes, from what I’ve heard,” Father Andrew said.

“Then it’s probably not a problem of discipline amongst the students.”

“Probably not, but who knows.”

“Is the school coed?” Vincent said.

“Yes. Most of our schools are nowadays.”

“Should I stay by your side or snoop around while you’re at your meeting, Father?”

“Do you have a pen and notebook in your backpack?”

“Yes,” Vincent said.

“Then how do you feel about acting as my confidential secretary?”

“Honored,” Vincent said, “but I am curious as to why you feel the need for one?”

“I’m just going with my gut right now,” Father Andrew said.

“That works for me.”

“Vincent, I don’t know what they have to tell me but whatever it is needs to stay between us. I know I can count on you in that regard. Not even your parents can know.”

“Unless they’re already clued in. There’s not a lot that happens in Stratham, Florida that my folks don’t know about.”

“True, but I don’t want them hearing about any of this from us.”

“Okay, Father Andrew, I understand. I’m glad we’ve known each other long enough that you can trust me to help.”

“We first met when you were eighteen,” Father Andrew said.

“That was almost six years ago,” Vincent said. “I remember my father asking you to speak with me. He was concerned I wasn’t being sociable enough at the time.”

“I know,” Father Andrew said, “but I told him you were fine just more introspective and not one to socialize much.”

“He was mad at you when you first said that.”

“Yes, but then I told him that you didn’t suffer fools gladly or for long. Like father like son.”

“Do you feel close to my father?” Vincent said. “Would you consider him a friend or more of a long time acquaintance?”

“You sound like you already know the answer to that question.”

“I’d like to think I do,” Vincent said. “Thank you for letting me write and e-mail you from wherever I traveled.”

“I enjoyed getting your e-mails,” Father Andrew said. “It was fun seeing pictures of you in places I’d visited when I was younger.”

“Thank you for the suggestions you made. Especially the one about visiting Maggie Valley in North Carolina. I think that’s my favorite place on the planet.”

“I won’t argue about that,” Father Andrew said. “We’re here. Keep your eyes and ears open, we don’t know what we’re dealing with yet.”



Chapter 3



FATHER ANDREW FOLLOWED the circular drive around to the front of the school. The campus itself was a good distance back from the main road and out of view. Someone would have to either be looking for the school or headed there to know it even existed. Vincent noticed the long, entry walkway that was open on the sides but had a roof to keep people from getting wet in rainy weather. The walkway led to several buildings interconnected by covered, outdoor stairs and more walkways.

“The campus buildings look pretty good for their age,” Vincent said.

“They were built in sixty-eight,” Father Andrew said. “The year I was born. There’s an inner courtyard between the main buildings. St. Mary’s was closed when you would’ve attended.”

“My parents sent me to the private school one town over,” Vincent said. “Not a fun commute.”

“When this is over today, you and I can have an early dinner,” Father Andrew said.

“You’re assuming I’m free.”

“I’m wanting to know what brought you back here and why you’ve been avoiding me the entire time you’ve been back,” Father Andrew said. “Friends don’t do that to one another.”

“Then we are still friends,” Vincent said.

“If we weren’t I wouldn’t have asked you to come along.”

“Do you have many friends, Father?”

“I can count my friends on one hand and that includes you.”

“Which finger am I,” Vincent said, “wait, I don’t think I want to know.”

They chuckled as Father Andrew found a parking space in front of the main office.

“You’re the only true friend I have, Andrew. And I don’t think I could handle it if that were ever to change.”

“That, my friend, is one thing you don’t have to worry about,” Father Andrew said. He parked, then patted Vincent’s shoulder with his hand. “You’re tense… we definitely need to talk.”

“Yeah, but I’m nervous.”

“It’s just me, Father Andrew. Occasionally it’s just Andrew to you, but that’s when you take liberties. Don’t let it get to your head.”

“I won’t.” Vincent reached back, grabbed hold of his backpack, then removed a spiral notebook and pen from it. “I’m all set.”

“Good,” Father Andrew said, “then let the games begin.”

The two walked to the main office and upon entering the space they were greeted by a middle-aged woman in a floral top and long navy skirt. Her brown hair was pulled up into a chignon and to any passersby she would’ve looked like she was all business. But her warm smile when she looked at Father Andrew and Vincent melted away the facade.

“I’m Miss Ainsley. Brother Michael asked me to show you straight into his office upon your arrival, Father Madera. I’ve seen your picture online and recognized you as soon as you walked in. A good secretary makes it a priority to stay abreast of things. However, I wasn’t informed you’d be bringing a guest.”

“This is Vincent Farragate my private, confidential secretary. He’s here to take notes on my behalf so that I can give Brother Michael my undivided attention.”

“As long as he’s trustworthy,” Miss Ainsley said.

“Aren’t most secretaries trustworthy?” Father Andrew said, then smiled in an attempt to charm the secretary.

“One can only wish that was the case,” Miss Ainsley said. “And as a good Catholic woman I don’t believe in wishes… only in prayers to the saints. Follow me, please… both of you.”

She led them to an office behind hers and slightly off to the right. After knocking on the door, she opened it and showed Father Andrew and Vincent inside.

“Father Madera and his confidential, private secretary Vincent Farragate here to see you, Brother Michael,” Miss Ainsley said.

“Thank you,” A tall, thin man with a brown mustache and beard said. His face was narrow but friendly-looking. He was dressed in a simple, short-sleeved shirt, slacks, and brown sandals. His brown hair was longish but neatly kept. “I’m Brother Michael, it’s a pleasure to meet you, gentlemen. May I present Father Felix Boxton.”

“Father Felix will do,” A man who looked to be about five-nine or ten and at least two hundred and forty or fifty pounds walked toward Father Andrew and shook his hand then Vincent’s. He was dressed in a black suit and had on a Roman collar like Father Andrew.

Vincent noticed that Father Felix’s rather round face was red and sweaty. His thinning white hair was also noticeably wet.

“This unusually warm Florida day is doing me in,” Father Felix said, “but I’ll be fine.”

“I think we’d better get down to business, now that we’re all here,” Brother Michael said, from where he stood in front of his large wood desk. “Father Felix is a distinguished psychiatrist who has come out of retirement to help us.”

“Come out of forced retirement, I might add,” Father Felix said. “Apparently this old man is still of some use to the church who he thought had forgotten him.” Before anyone could respond he continued speaking. “That’s of no matter now. I know why I’m here but I’m not sure of your credentials, Father Madera. When I looked you up I saw that you work as an architect and an interior designer for the church as well as being a priest. At present you’re redoing a small, abandoned monastery in town. Oh, and occasionally you substitute teach and lecture. I’m also told if anyone can handle a job that seems hopeless, you can.”

“Nothing is truly hopeless with the help of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Father Andrew said.

“True enough,” Father Felix said. “But why would our glorious mother church ask you to get involved in figuring out something of a more sinister nature?”

“Is there something of a ‘more sinister nature’ at work here in this school?” Father Andrew said. “I’ve been given no details whatsoever involving the goings-on here. And call me Father Andrew, please. You too, Brother Michael.”

“Alright, Father Andrew,” Brother Michael said. “And to answer your question, There is something sinister in nature going on here.” He handed Father Andrew a sheet of paper. “That’s the first message our office received. You’ll forgive me for not reading it aloud.”

Father Andrew read the paper then handed it to Vincent who read it.

“I can see where we might have a problem.” Father Andrew said.

“That message was the first of two letters and several unwritten messages,” Brother Michael said. “A dead bird and two dead cats have also been delivered to our offices. We assume the same person is behind it all.”

“Is that a safe assumption to make?” Father Andrew said, starting to pace the room while deep in thought.

“I’m beginning to see why they called you in, Father Andrew,” Father Felix said. “Your pace and the look on your face give you away.”

“Do they?” Father Andrew said. “I’ve got to get better at not showing my hand. However, I believe everyone in this room to be trustworthy. I don’t think Brother Michael would sabotage his own school.”

“I’d second that,” Father Felix said. “Were you a detective in your previous life, Father Andrew?”

“No,” Father Andrew said, “but my father was one of the top detectives in Puerto Rico, then amongst the best in Florida.”

“That explains the tan,” Brother Michael said. “But by your features I would’ve thought you hailed from Spain, Father Andrew. More in particular, the area bordering Spain and France.”

“Part of my family hails from Spain originally, the other part has native Puerto-Rican Indian ancestry.”

“I was in Puerto Rico many years ago,” Father Felix said. “The people there were as friendly as they were beautiful. But we digress. I take it you worked alongside your father long enough to acquire some skills which the church has seen fit to use when needed.”

“You put that perfectly, Father Felix,” Father Andrew said.

Their meeting was suddenly interrupted by the fire alarm going off.

“That wouldn’t happen to be a drill, would it?” Father Felix said.

“Unfortunately, no,” Brother Michael said. “It seems we have a problem, gentlemen.”



Chapter 4



THE SOUND OF a loud, thunderous explosion could be heard across St. Mary’s campus. The vibrations from which emanated throughout all the buildings. Students, dressed in the school’s blue and white uniform, scrambled to get down to the field beside the school. Upstairs, a group of three students rushed to get where they were going. A male student struggled to move his twisted body through the throng of his peers. Classmates on either side of said student tried to help him. The female student picked up the crutch he’d dropped.

“It’s no good, Tori,” the male student said. “I’ll carry him, fireman style over my shoulder.”

“I’m too heavy for you, Brent,” the male student using the crutches said. “You and Tori go on ahead.”

“He can do it,” Tori said. “Have faith in him, Pete, he’s stronger than he looks.”

Brent was about to lift Pete when a student ran his way and grabbed his shoulder.

“My name’s Clint—I need your help, buddy. The students in the science lab up here are trapped and that’s where the explosion came from.”

“What’s going on here?” a newcomer said.

“Brother Lee,” Clint said to the newcomer. “The students in the science lab are trapped. The door can’t be opened, I need help.”

“Brent, go with him,” Brother Lee said.

“But I can’t leave Pete,” Brent said, “he needs help getting down the stairs.”

“Don’t worry about him,” Brother Lee said, then turned and lifted Pete over his shoulder. “Get his crutches and follow me, please, Tori.”

“Let’s go, bud,” Clint said to Brent and the two ran down the hallway to the left. Brother Lee went down the stairs carrying Pete and Tori followed close behind him.



“THIS IS SLOPPY, Brother Michael,” Father Felix said while he walked quickly across the central courtyard. “Real damn sloppy.”

Father Andrew and Vincent were following Father Felix and Brother Michael trying to get to the site of the explosion. A tree branch hit Vincent in the face as he nearly walked into the same tree.

“Keep your wits about you, Vince,” Father Andrew said in a low voice.

They were headed up a flight of stairs when they heard sirens in the distance. A few students ran toward Brother Michael, the priests, and Vincent when they reached the top hallway.

“Brother Michael!” a female student said. “It’s the science lab, the class in there is trapped and can’t get out.”

The sound of another explosion then breaking glass was heard and the floor shook so hard the female student screamed.

“Help Ginny downstairs to the field quickly!” Brother Michael told the male student by Ginny’s side.

The students scurried away and down the stairs.



BRENT COULD HEAR the screams before they’d reached the science room and it made his insides tremble. His stomach was getting upset, but he did his best to remain calm.

“We’re almost there,” Clint said. “You’re doing good, buddy.” He looked back and smiled at Brent.

Brent felt warm inside when Clint looked at him and his strength and resolve were refueled. They got to the door of the science lab and saw the teacher’s hand reaching out from the window in the door where a glass pane had once been. Students inside were screaming for help.

“Get everyone away from the door, Mr. Kinney!” Clint said. “We’ll try to break it down!”

“Okay,” Mr. Kinney said. “Hurry, despite the broken windows, the room is filling with smoke. I think someone put Super Glue in the door lock.”

“Let’s try to kick hard in the same area,” Clint said to Brent who nodded in agreement. “One, two, and three.” They both kicked the door. “Nothing. Let’s try again.”

“Wait,” Brent said then ran to the end of the hall where there was emergency fire equipment. After opening the case he grabbed the fire ax and ran back to Clint. “This should help.”

“The door’s metal,” Clint said.

“Move!” Brent said then he aimed for the door handle and brought the ax down hard onto it.

Brother Michael and his companions arrived in time to see Brent and witness the door coming open. Mr. Kinney, a tall, thickly-built man with brown hair and glasses exited the room and helped some students do the same.

“We need help,” Mr. Kinney said to Brother Michael and the others, “there are some injured students still inside.”

Thick smoke still filled the room when they entered. Father Andrew followed the sound of a female crying. He helped Vincent pick up the student who was trembling and bleeding.

“Take her and get out, Vince, I won’t be far behind,” Father Andrew said.

After Vincent left, Father Andrew spotted a slender student with auburn hair bent over a heavy male student who was lying on the ground. The student looked at Father Andrew with big, blue, soulful eyes, imploring him for help.

“He’s too heavy for me to lift, Father,” Brent said.

“I’ll give you a hand then,” Father Andrew said.

“I need everyone that can walk out of this room to leave,” a new voice said. “I’m a fireman.”

“Over here!” Father Andrew said. “We have an unconscious student.”

Once the fireman had reached them and was taking care of the unconscious student, Father Andrew put his arm around Brent’s shoulder and led him out of the room.

“You’re a very brave man coming to your fellow students’ aid,” Father Andrew told Brent as they rapidly walked down the hall on their way to the stairs. Although the student was shorter than him, Father Andrew was surprised at how he managed to keep pace with him.

“The other guy that helped me,” Brent said in a panic. “Clint! I don’t see Clint.”

“I’m sure he’s fine now that the firemen are here. What’s your name?”

“Brent, Brent Drumholdt.”

“Nice to meet you, Brent Drumholdt,” Father Andrew said when they reached the stairs.

They were halfway down the staircase when the two heard what sounded like someone taking the stairs two steps at a time.

“Clint!” Brent said when he turned around and saw who it was.

“You did great back there!” Clint said. “I knew you had the look of a man who could be counted on when I first spotted you.” He patted Brent on the back and the three continued down the stairs.

“You two get to your proper places on the field,” Father Andrew said once they’d left the courtyard area.

It took Father Andrew a few minutes to find Vincent who stood on the field next to Miss Ainsley.

“Who’s responsible for these explosions, Miss Ainsley,” Father Andrew said.

“Surely it was an accident in the science lab,” Miss Ainsley said.

“If it only happened once that might be a plausible explanation,” Father Andrew said. “But not twice. Do either one of you know how many injured there are yet or the extent of the injuries?”

“Some students received minor cuts from the broken glass,” Miss Ainsley said.

“The explosions were more noise than anything else,” Vincent said. “Obviously the science lab was hit the hardest. Several students have cuts which are being tended to and at least one student was unconscious due to his proximity to the blast.”

“I’m aware of that last one,” Father Andrew said then turned to Miss Ainsley. “Has anything like this happened here before?”

“Never,” Miss Ainsley said.

“I’ll want the names of every student in that science class and anyone that had access to the classroom,” Father Andrew said. “That’s if you wouldn’t mind getting those names for me, Miss Ainsley.”

“Desperate times and all that,” Miss Ainsley said. “I’ll see to it as soon as we’re allowed back inside, Father Andrew.”

“Thank you, much appreciated,” Father Andrew said. “Let’s see how long it’ll take for the firemen to deem the campus safe again.”

While teachers did head counts of their students, the police arrived with bomb-sniffing dogs in tow. Brother Michael called Father Andrew, Father Felix, and Vincent over to a picnic bench under some trees in the field by the student parking area.

“It’s nice to see you’re calm under pressure, Brother Michael,” Father Felix said. “Obviously the person who sent the notes and the dead animals has escalated his evil doings.”

“Looks that way,” Brother Michael said. “Although it’s not always a good thing to jump to conclusions.”

“Correct, Brother Michael,” Father Andrew said. “That’s a surefire way to miss clues or suspects. Speaking of which, do we have any other suspects besides the person or persons who wrote the notes?”

“Oh, do you think there may be two or more people working together?” Father Felix said.

“You’re the psychiatry expert, I wouldn’t dream of stepping on your toes in that area,” Father Andrew said.

“I’m not one for niceties, Father Andrew,” Father Felix said, then continued without waiting for a reply. “I haven’t yet had time to work out a profile of our whack job.”

“That’s a nice clinical term,” Vincent said and was met with chuckles.

“Well, it’s been a long day and I did say I’m not one for niceties,” Father Felix said.

“I was informed you’ll be staying with me and Father Dominic during your stay,” Father Andrew said.

“You were informed correctly,” Father Felix said. “Brother Michael has kindly invited me to dinner, so I’ll be by your place after that. If my plans fit in with yours.”

“Yes, they do as a matter of fact,” Father Andrew said. “And if I had said they didn’t?”

“Then one of us would’ve had to alter their plans,” Father Felix said and smiled. “But, I do get the feeling we can both be stubborn when we want to be.”

“Nonsense,” Father Andrew said and smiled. “The one with the easiest plans to change would’ve changed them. That would’ve been a simple enough thing to decide between two reasonable men.”

“I like you already, Father Andrew,” Father Felix said. “And I wasn’t entirely sure I would.”



Chapter 5



FATHER ANDREW WAITED in his car in St. Mary’s parking lot for Vincent who was calling home on his cell phone to say he wouldn’t make it for dinner. He was just starting to focus on what had occurred at the school when two news vans drove up. Already parents had begun arriving to check on their children, and the school would soon be a mess of frantic parents and reporters desperate to get a story. Looking straight ahead he spotted Vincent and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Ready to roll,” Vincent said as he got in the car. “I ran back inside for this.” He lifted his spiral notebook. Didn’t you need to get some information from Miss Ainsley?”

“I’ll see to it tomorrow,” Father Andrew said, “it probably won’t help much anyway. Right now, I don’t want to get caught up in this mess of reporters and parents.”

Wasting no time, Father Andrew backed his car out of the parking space and drove out onto the main road.

“I hope you don’t think it was childish of me to phone my mother and tell her I wouldn’t be home for dinner,” Vincent said.

“No. In my book you were being polite and considerate.’

“Others would argue that with you,” Vincent said.

“Then those others probably aren’t very polite or considerate.”

“Sort of like whoever’s responsible for what happened at St. Mary’s school.”

“I think the person or person responsible for all that noise, smoke, and broken glass considered quite a few things,” Father Andrew said. “Such as applying glue to the science lab door, from what I’ve heard. It makes me wonder one thing.”

“How much worse things could’ve gotten had the culprit wanted to cause more damage to property or to the student body,” Vincent said.

“Precisely, Vince. We seem to be of one mind today.”

“Speaking of which, what did you decide on for dinner?”



BRENT DIDN’T HAVE a chance to look for Clint and assumed he probably drove home or was among the many students who’d already been picked up by their parents. He and Tori were the last two waiting outside for their rides home.

“You were really, really brave, Brent,” Tori said as she twisted the end of her long black ponytail in her hand. She fiddled with the tortoise shell rim glasses she wore and swung her backpack to and fro. “These school uniforms are so unflattering. I’m glad the news crew didn’t ask to interview me. Blue pants and a white shirt—how basic and ugly can a uniform be?”

“Lucky for you the news people just wanted to interview the teachers,” Brent said. “And you look fine in your uniform.”

“Thanks, Brent,” Tori said and smiled. “Do you think they’ll cancel the school dance because of all this happening?”

“It’s hard to say, but I hope not. I don’t think it’s good to give in to fear or threats. It just emboldens the culprit.”

“That’s true,” Tori said, “but I don’t believe it was a terrorist attack like that one stupid, blonde reporterette said. God, I think that woman was just chosen for her looks. She could barely read her cue cards.”

Brent chuckled. “Brains didn’t seem to be a qualification for her job. Thanks for helping me with Pete earlier.”

“The school really needs to install something for students who have a problem managing the stairs,” Tori said. “I’m surprised they don’t get fined for not being handicap accessible.”

“They do have that lift thing that goes along the outside of the stairs but it’s at the other end of the hall from where we were,” Brent said. “And it’s just not enough. Poor Pete, he tries so hard to keep up but in the end….”

“I know,” Tori said. “You don’t need to say it. There’s my big sister, gotta go. I’ll see you tomorrow. Call or e-mail me if you want to talk some more.”

While he waited for his stepmother to arrive in her Mercedes, Brent worked on homework. Twenty-minutes after Tori had left, his stepmother pulled up. Brent gathered his homework, put it in his backpack, walked to the car, and sat in the front passenger seat. He looked at his blonde, heavily made up stepmother. She was dressed in a Chanel suit which was over the top for just picking up a kid from school, in his opinion. Looking in the backseat he spotted his half sister in her baby seat sleeping.

“Sorry for being so late, kid,” his stepmother said. “Don’t bust my balls for it.”

“You’re a woman,” Brent said, “you don’t have any balls to bust.”

“However that statement goes. Don’t bust my chops then. Your father’s already gonna be in a mood because the school was in the news. I had to make sure the news crews were gone before I came to get you.”

“With all of this going on do you and Dad really think the news would bring up Morgan?” Brent said.

“It doesn’t matter what I think, Brent. Your father will be a handful tonight. Do me a favor kid and lay low. Just don’t get your old man started.”

“Why—”

“I promise I’ll owe you one. Your sister only just went to sleep. She’s been a pain all day crying and going on.”

“The burn on her arm must still be bothering her,” Brent said. “Poor little thing. I’m sorry, I know you didn’t mean for her to get burned on the stove when you were cooking. I don’t know why Dad doesn’t just hire a nanny.”

“From your mouth to God’s ears. But he’s concerned about having anyone in the house that may snoop around or ask too many questions.”

“I was hoping that now that everything with Morgan is over it would be the start of a new and happy life. Especially since we had moved away for a year and only just come back.”

“Those were my thoughts as well, but it was pretty naive on our part to think that way. Life can be shit sometimes, even for rich folks like us.”

“Kimberly, I’ll have dinner in my room tonight. You can tell Dad I had a ton of homework and went to bed early from all the excitement at school.”

“Thanks, Brent. You know, on some level I really had hoped this year would be the start of something new and good for all of us. But it just doesn’t seem meant to be.”



BRENT HEADED STRAIGHT for his room on the second floor and closed the door behind him. The baby had woken up and was crying nonstop. Poor, Sienna, I can relate, he thought. He unbuttoned then took off his white school shirt and tossed it in the hamper beside the full-length mirror in front of his queen-size bed. The mirror had been his mother’s before she died in a car accident. Catching sight of himself in the reflective glass, Brent looked at his body. His auburn hair was short and neat like most of the guys at school. Clint’s brown hair was longer in front and hung over his right eye. The brothers at school would get on Clint’s case about it soon enough. Brent ran his hand down his chest and stomach. He was neither too slim nor fat at all but he wanted to develop his stomach muscles more. His chest was smooth and devoid of hair but he didn’t mind that. If he had a hairy chest it might mean he’d also have a hairy back like he’d seen on some men in the changing room at his Dad’s club. And he didn’t want that.

After kicking off his shoes and socks he lay back on his bed. He gave in to his desire to remove his pants then closed his eyes and thought about the day. Things had been pretty crazy but then Clint showed up and looked at him the way he did—as if he admired or even liked him. His lips formed an involuntary smile. Despite not wanting to think about him, all Brent could do was picture Clint’s pale blue eyes that stood out against his tan face and dark brown hair.

“That’s enough of that,” Brent said in a low voice to the front of his briefs which had started to rise.



“WE’RE HEADED TO your monastery project,” Vincent said to Father Andrew. “Good. I’ve never actually seen it.”

“Really?” Father Andrew said as he drove.

“It hasn’t been open to the public yet, has it?” Vincent said.

“Only when we first acquired it, so people could see the before,” Father Andrew said. “You’ve never tried to sneak a peak at it?”

“In general I try not to do things I’m not supposed to do and there are ‘off Limits’ signs posted at the front of the long drive.”

“Yes. The long drive is a bit of a problem. Actually landscaping in general is problematic at present.”

“Have you gotten to the point of dealing with landscaping?” Vincent said. “I’m surprised… its only been a few years.”

“Five and a half years to be exact,” Father Andrew said. The building needed quite a bit of repair and restoring, not to mention all the red tape to muddle through and funding to raise. Now the landscape needs work. About all of the original garden design is still there just grown over and infested with weeds.”

“Time to cut out the invading infestation there and at St. Mary’s school, huh?”

“I was wondering when you’d bring the school up, Vincent.”

“I’ve decided you can call me Vince. And I was waiting on you to bring things up. I thought you’d probably wait until dinner which will be… when and where?”

“At the monastery,” Father Andrew said, “and we’ll eat as soon as you help me cook our meal.”

“I forgot you’d been practicing your epicurean ways. Can a novice like me even help an expert like you?”

“You can boil the noodles,” Father Andrew said. “We’ll be eating noodles with shrimp Father Dominic helped me clean this morning.”

“Will Father Dominic be there? It’s been a while since he and I have spoken and he was a nice guy last we met.”

“No, he won’t be in until tomorrow,” Father Andrew said. “He received a call from the nursing home. One of his parishioners is dying—not expected to last the night.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Isn’t the parish also yours? You preach there on occasion.”

“It’s a complicated situation,” Father Andrew said. “I hope you’re not expecting too much from the monastery. It’s not all that large a building. Mostly a rectangular, stone construction housing several chapels with ornate hallways between them. There are two bedrooms a kitchen, bath, and small living area at the rear. Of course, being a Spanish monastery there is an open courtyard.”

“That sounds pretty fancy to me,” Vince said. “But where will the monks sleep? You didn’t mention sleeping quarters besides the one occupied by you, Father Dominic, and soon Father Felix.”

Father Andrew chuckled. “You’re not the only one to make the assumption monks will live there. But this is only the cloisters. The building was bought by William Hailey, a wealthy industrialist who wanted to turn it into a hosting facility for parties corporate events, and especially weddings. Hailey brought the cloisters from Spain piece by piece in the early 1900s. He managed to oversee most of the reconstruction but died before the buildings were ever put to use.”

“The cloisters must’ve been abandoned until one of his heirs willed it to the church,” Vincent said.

“Precisely,” Father Andrew said. “It’s done me a lot of good restoring the old place. Helped bring peace to my somewhat troubled soul.”

“You—troubled?” Vincent said.

“We all go through rough patches,” Father Andrew said. “But that as they say is a story for another day and we have reached our destination.”



Chapter 6



“ANDREW, IT’S MAGNIFICENT,” Vincent said when the front of the monastery came into view.

“Thank you,” Father Andrew said, “it’s an architectural wonder. You shouldn’t keep calling me that you know—Andrew.”

“It’s your name,” Vincent said. “Don’t you like it? Or is it only a problem that I’m the one using it when addressing you.”

“The latter actually,” Father Andrew said, then saw the hurt look on Vincent’s face. “When you call me Andrew it makes me feel human.”

“And why is that a problem? Shouldn’t a priest be human.”

“A priest is human,” Father Andrew said, “but he must rise above his own humanity to help others. If I’m to be any help to the church I need to be free of my own human emotions in order to hone in on others’ needs.”

“Are you aiming for sainthood, Father, or intent on becoming the next pope? It’s our humanity that makes us who we are and—”

“And can lead us in directions we shouldn’t go in when there are problems to solve,” Father Andrew said, “such as what happened at the school. If I let myself be led by fear or even pity for the victims or the perpetrator how could I successfully solve the case?”

“You think you’ve got life figured out, don’t you?” Vincent said. “That the only reason you’re valuable is because you’re of use to the church. I understand the need to compartmentalize feelings in order to survive or accomplish things, but there’s also something called a happy medium.”

After parking the car in front of the monastery, Father Andrew turned to Vincent and gave him his full attention. He put his hand on Vincent’s shoulder and felt him shudder.

“I’ve hit a nerve with you. I’m sorry, Vince. There’s not a person in this world I’d want to hurt less than you. Forgive me.”

“There’s nothing to forgive.”

“Is this about your romance in France?” Father Andrew said.

“You’re so careful not to pry too much, Father Andrew. Trying your best not to hurt people and wanting to be the ideal priest and man. They’re not all bad things but you take them too far.”

“Maybe there’s a reason for that, Vince. One I can’t share.”

“It’d be more honest if you said one you won’t share.”

“I won’t lie to you,” Father Andrew said, “you’d see it for what it was anyway. There was a time I gave into my human feelings and it didn’t turn out well. Believe it or not I’ve missed our one-on-one conversations. You keep me on my toes and don’t let me get away with a thing.”

“Maybe that’s my calling in life,” Vincent said, “to keep you on your toes.”

“You’re called to greater things than that, I have no doubt of it. How are you really?”

“I’m as good as can be expected after a failed romance,” Vincent said. “I’m home getting my degree in something or another. What, I can’t tell you because I haven’t decided yet. And I’m having dinner with the man I admire most in the world.”

“There are better men than me to admire, but thank you for the compliment.”

“You’re welcome, and I’m hungry.”

“Let me show you to my humble abode then.”

They exited the car and Vincent stopped to look at the entry to the monastery.

“I love how the entire thing is made of stone blocks. And just look at the buttresses along the side wall. They have the elegant vase shaped ornamentation on top. Oh my God, the archway still has the carved accents along the top… and is that a coat of arms in stone over the entry? Does that bell under the second story arch work?”

“It does indeed work,” Father Andrew said. “I thought you were hungry.”

“Yes, but now that I’m out of the car I can appreciate it all better. I see what you mean about the overgrown vegetation. It’s difficult to see the stone path leading to the arched entrance.”

“Now that you do see it, let’s use it,” Father Andrew said. “Actually let’s walk around back and save the inside until after dinner.”

“Don’t we have to go inside to get to your ‘humble abode’.”

“There’s a back door,” Father Andrew said, then walked off to the side followed by Vincent.

The backyard light was on which kept Vincent from tripping over unseen foliage hidden by shadows. They made it to the back door and Father Andrew opened it, went inside, and flicked up the light switch.

“Let there be light,” Father Andrew said. “A bit of Catholic humor for you, free of charge, Vince.

Vincent chuckled then spoke. “Be careful. You don’t want to get a God complex, those are reserved for doctors… or is it surgeons?”

He looked around the open living area and noticed the kitchen had an island with four stools. The inside walls were unplastered rough stone blocks.

“The walls in the two bedrooms have been plastered over but I like seeing the blocks in here and in the kitchen.” Father Andrew said, then walked to the kitchen. “The large pot for boiling the pasta is in the cabinet under the island. Will you please get it, Vince?”

Vince bent down, opened the cabinet in the island, and pulled out a large steel pot. He then went to the sink across from the island and filled the pot with water after which he put it on the electric stove and turned the heat to high so the water would boil.

“I think we’ll do a garlic butter, white wine, shrimp linguine recipe I found online. How does that sound, Vince?”

“Delicious. Get to work, Father.”

While the pasta cooked and Father Andrew worked on the shrimp in a skillet, the two men talked.

“This is nice,” Vincent said. “I like this choice for dinner. I’m also fond of the tile on the floor… not quite terra cotta but somewhat similar in color.”

“I wasn’t sure you’d ever come back, Vince. Your grandfather’s will left you a great deal of money to travel on, then at twenty-one you received a rather hefty inheritance.”

“I inherited one-hundred-thousand dollars to travel with when I graduated and that’s what I did,” Vincent said. “However, I also worked in some of the places I traveled to and only spent about fifteen grand of the money Granddad left. The rest is in savings along with the two point five million I received when I turned twenty-one.”

“I wasn’t prying, Vince.”

“Yes you were, but I know you don’t care about the money part of it. You’re surprised I came back and didn’t keep sowing my wild oats.”

“I know you had a romance that you were very keen on for a while,” Father Andrew said.

“It was good while it lasted and I’m not sorry it happened,” Vincent said. “But it’s over. Did you ever have a wild romance or even a fling before you entered the priesthood?”

“No. I was more of a loner. I suppose I just didn’t meet the right person.”

“You’re handsome enough, you know,” Vincent said. “I’m sure you had people of every persuasion throwing themselves at you left and right.”

“Not quite and what do you mean by ‘every persuasion’?”

“Black, white, fat, skinny… that sort of thing,” Vincent said.

“Maybe so,” Father Andrew said, “but there were none that turned my head. I’ve always been far too goal-oriented to be swayed by that sort of thing. No matter what the person’s persuasion.”

“Obviously you were right when you said you didn’t meet ‘the one’,” Vincent said.

“Did you meet someone you thought was ‘the one’ in Paris?”

“I knew that… the person, wasn’t ‘the one’ almost from the start, but I was lonely. And they were a close second best, which they knew. When we were together we weren’t alone. We made each other laugh and had a good time. But, well… it was time to move on.”

“And now how do you feel?” Father Andrew said.

“Well I certainly don’t feel lonely. I’m having dinner with you.” He chuckled and saw Father Andrew do the same. “It was me that broke things off to see to things at home.”

“What sorts of things?”

“Now you really are prying,” Vincent said and smiled. “All sorts of things—some of which I may tell you about and some of which I might not.”

“Curious indeed, but I’m not a cat so I won’t pry any longer,” Father Andrew said. “At least not on that subject.”



ONCE THE FOOD was plated they moved it to the island and Father Andrew poured them each half a glass of white wine. They ate and drank while they spoke.

“We’ll both have to drive later,” Father Andrew said. “Me to take you back to your car and you to drive home. That’s why I only poured us half a glass of wine each.”

“Thank you again for all your ideas about places to see on my travels, Father. I only wish… um… this may sound stupid, but I wish you would’ve been there in person to play tour guide.”

“Aw, but you had your romance,” Father Andrew said. “Before that you’d call me and tell me everything you were looking at as if I was there with you.”

“It’s not the same thing as having someone by your side to share things,” Vincent said. “My parents came and visited—that was fun. They acted like two teenagers in love.”

“Your parents always seem like that to me.”

“My Dad told me that my Mom was, is, and will always be the love of his life. When it was just the three of us in Rome and Greece I really could see it and it was something wonderful. My Dad was so… free.”

“Most people don’t get the chance to feel truly free,” Father Andrew said.

“No, but once they do why would they go back to what it was like before?” Vincent said. “Why would my dad come back here?”

“Why did you come back, Vince?”

“Probably for the same reason my dad did. Only don’t ask me what that is because I’m not sure I know one-hundred-percent why.” He smiled. “But I was never as free as Dad or even Mom were. The two of them were always checking up on me, especially Dad.”

“I guess that’s what parents do. Not being a parent I wouldn’t know things from that angle.”

‘And yet we call you Father,” Vincent said.

“Good point. Rather a profound one actually if one stops to think of it in all its facets.”

“Well, you may not have been someone’s biological father,” Vincent said, “but you were someone’s son.”


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