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Authors: Carol Anne O'Marie

A Novena for Murder

BOOK: A Novena for Murder
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Praise for
the Sister Mary Helen Mystery Series

“An unfailingly cozy mystery series.”


Library Journal

“Father Brown, move over! . . . Tough and compassionate, [Sister Mary Helen] understands the secrets of the human heart.”

—Andrew M. Greeley

“O’Marie twines the strands of these disparate lives with humor and sympathy.”


Publishers Weekly
on
Requiem at the Refuge

“Another first-rate installment in an unfailingly entertaining series.”


Booklist
on
Requiem at the Refuge

“Enlivened by its series of incisive character studies—and sure to please the Sister’s legion of fans.”


Kirkus Reviews
on
Death Takes Up a Collection

“O’Marie delivers compelling characters and sophisticated plotting in her best effort to date.”


Publishers Weekly
on
Death of an Angel

“[An] excellent mystery series . . . Hard to put down.”


Booklist
on
Death of an Angel

“The author’s handy mix of humor and suspense again proves irresistible.”


Publishers Weekly
on
The Missing Madonna

Also by Sister Carol Anne O’Marie

Death Takes Up a Collection

Death oj an Angel

Advent of Dying

The Corporal Works of Murder

Death Goes on Retreat

Murder Makes a Pilgrimage

 

A
VAILABLE FROM
S
T
. M
ARTIN’S
/ M
INOTAUR
P
APERBACKS

A Novena
for
Murder

Sister Carol Anne O’Marie

NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

 

 

A NOVENA FOR MURDER

Copyright © 1984 by Sister Carol Anne O’Marie.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

ISBN: 0-312-93355-X
EAN: 80312-93355-5

Printed in the United States of America

Charles Scribner’s Sons edition / April 1984
Dell Paperbacks edition / December 1988
St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / February 2005

St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1

 

 

To all those whose love and support have made this book possible

especially my sister Kath, who can hardly believe it happened, my friend Maureen, who bore with me while it was happening, and the real Sister Mary Helen, whose inspiration caused it to happen
.

First Day

T
hey were in the far corner of the Community Room playing pinochle when it happened. Sister Mary Helen remembered that distinctly. As usual, Sister Eileen was her partner. Over the years they had played together so often it seemed like an unfair advantage. That was why she waited for Sister Cecilia. The college president would undoubtedly be as shrewd at cards as she was at managing the college.

Furthermore, it would be good for Cecilia to relax. Mary Helen smiled. “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” Somehow, Cecilia always reminded her of General Motors. At least, that was the way Cecilia ran Mount St. Francis College for Women.

Sister Mary Helen looked around. The spacious room had a comfortable Sunday-evening hum. The nuns sat in small groups chatting, knitting, playing Chinese checkers. A band of devoted television
watchers had gathered at one end. No Cecilia. She must be out at some meeting or other.

Mary Helen felt a twinge of guilt when she snagged Sister Anne for the fourth. The young nun looked nervous, but she’d catch on quickly. Anyone who could master all those guitar chords could certainly remember a few card tricks.

Mary Helen had just taken the bid when it happened. All she needed for a double pinochle was one Jack of Diamonds, and she was positive from the way Sister Eileen’s bushy, gray eyebrows shot up that her old friend had it.

At first Mary Helen suspected Sister Anne of jiggling the card table. She was about to ask her to stop when a low, dull rumble filled the long room. Then a small crack raced along the ceiling and the parquet floor began to undulate. Earthquake, she thought in horror, watching the carved statue of St. Joseph teeter on its pedestal. The hanging lamps swinging in unison added a tinny, clinking sound almost like breaking glass. Both door jambs swayed left, then right, then stopped. Mary Helen held her breath. Suddenly, everything was strangely still.

“St Emydius, preserve us from earthquake.” Sister Therese’s high-pitched scream tore through the quiet.

Slowly, Mary Helen exhaled. As if by some silent signal, the other nuns in the room burst into chatter. Good old Emydius seems to have done his job, Mary Helen thought, glancing at the sisters’ shock-white faces. We may not be very calm, but at least we are preserved!

“We’d better check the main college building. Someone may be up there,” Sister Anne said hoarsely, rushing toward the front door of the Sisters’ Residence.

“It’s Sunday.” Mary Helen prided herself on logic.

“You can never tell. Somebody may be there. And what about Luis?”

Luis! Mary Helen had forgotten about the young janitor. Grabbing her jacket, she followed Anne. Sister Eileen was close behind.

Outside, the trio paused on the front stoop. The night was still and calm, almost balmy. A lone star fell. Its fiery tail streaked the blackness for an instant, then disappeared. Earthquake weather, Mary Helen was about to say, but she remembered that meteorologists claimed there was no such thing.

Anne grinned. “It’s still there,” she said, pointing up the hill.

Several hundred feet above them, crowning the top of the hill, the massive main building of Mount St. Francis College for Women stood intact. Floodlights shot through the darkness, coloring the stone building almost chartreuse.

“And looking like something out of a gothic mystery novel,” Mary Helen couldn’t resist saying.

The interior of the ornate building was dark except for a light on the first floor. Sister Eileen checked her wristwatch. “Eight-thirty, Sunday night. That is exactly where Luis should be cleaning. We’d better make sure he’s all right.”

The three nuns hurried up the moon-flooded driveway. The loose gravel crunching under their feet was the only sound breaking the stillness.

On the top step, just outside the main entrance, a slight young man leaned against one of the lions flanking the doorway. He was trembling. Beads of perspiration wet his forehead.

“Luis, are you okay?” Sister Anne reached out and pried the pushbroom loose from his clenched hand.

“Yeah, Sister.” Thick eyeglasses magnified Luis’s terrified eyes.

Gently Sister Anne led him to the top step. “Sit down. You look pale.”

Pale! To Mary Helen, his thin face looked absolutely green. As a matter of fact, in this grotesque lighting, they all looked a little green.

“Are you sure you aren’t hurt?” Anne asked, settling down on the stone step beside him.

Luis had just opened his mouth when a scream ricocheted through the blackened foyer. Mary Helen’s stomach gave a sickening lurch. Eileen whirled toward the front door just as a young woman burst through.

“Marina, dear, what is it?” Sister Eileen recognized Professor Villanueva’s secretary immediately.

“Come, please! Quick!” Marina pulled at the old nun’s jacket, urging her into the building. “The professor’s hurt.” As she spoke, her slim body began to shudder.

Eileen grabbed the young woman by the shoulders
and eased her onto the top step next to Luis. “Breathe deeply,” she ordered, her chubby face close to Marina’s. “Put your head between your knees. Try to relax. We’ll get some help.”

Marina slumped forward and buried her face in her knees.

Shoving her bifocals up the bridge of her nose, Mary Helen assessed the situation. Anne was busy with Luis, Eileen with Marina. That leaves only you, old girl, she reasoned. “I’ll go inside and see to the progress,” she said. Squaring her shoulders, the old nun breathed deeply and plodded through the front door into the black foyer.

“We’ll be there in a minute,” Eileen called after her.

Turning right, Mary Helen felt along the wall for the light switch, with no success. A light switch, like a policeman, was never around when you needed one. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness.

Slots of moonlight filtered into the foyer and illuminated the curved staircase leading to the second floor. “The moon is a ghostly galleon, tossed upon cloudy seas” came to her crazily, as she edged her way up the marble steps toward the professor’s office. One of the heavy tapestries on the stairwell hung slightly askew, but everything else looked normal. Not even one Carrara bust had moved on its pedestal. Each stared blankly ahead.

Rounding the corner, Mary Helen caught a slight movement in the upper hall. A shadow, maybe. She stopped. Blinked. Peered into the blackness. Nothing. Gripping the bannister, she steadied herself.
She could feel her heart pounding. “Anyone there?” Her question reverberated through the empty building. Silence.

“Are you all right?” Sister Eileen’s muffled voice floated in from the front steps.

Mary Helen took a deep breath. “Fine,” she shouted back, hoping she meant it. It’s just the wind, she assured herself, relaxing her grip. “The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.” Deliberately, she marched up the remaining steps to the second floor.

Across the dark hallway, a beam of light came from room 203. Funny we didn’t notice it from outside, Mary Helen thought, pausing in front of the open door. Cautiously, she peeked in. The outer office was in darkness. A second door, the one to the professor’s inner office, was slightly ajar. She craned her neck. The light was coming from the desk lamp. Like a beacon, it spotlighted the toes of two impeccably polished shoes. Mary Helen’s mouth felt oddly dry and parched, strangling the gasp in her throat. Professor Villanueva lay sprawled beside his desk.

Mary Helen crossed the room and squatted beside his body. Thin streams of blood trickled from his ears, encircling his head with a bright red halo. Avoiding his blank, staring eyes, she grabbed his limp wrist. It was still warm. She felt for his pulse. Nothing. His well-manicured hand fell back. Lifeless. She put her fingers on either side of his long, slender neck, sticky with fresh blood. Still no pulse.

BOOK: A Novena for Murder
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