Il Pane Della Vita, page 1part #2 of Sister Angela Mystery Series
OTHER BOOKS BY
CORALIE HUGHES JENSEN
Il Pane della Vita A Sister Angela Mystery
Coralie Hughes Jensen
Copyright © 2014 by Coralie Hughes Jensen
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are drawn from the author’s imagination or used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the copyright owner, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
To my editor
for her love of Sister Angela mysteries
Cover: Ann Proyous DeGuilio
Thank you to my editor, Kathy Brown. To our dear friend, Cinzia and Giorgio, owners of La Chiusa dei Monaci Bed and Breakfast in Arrezzo, who helped us find the places we needed to see in the Apennines. To my fans who pushed me to finish this book. And especially to my husband Bruce who worked so hard to make this book possible.
Save the babble of a nearby stream, all was silent. Few monks were up. Three hardy souls spilled out into the front portico after preparing the bread, now baking, for the hungry monks who would assemble in the dining room after Lauds, the earliest of the morning offices.
Brother Enrico took out his cigarettes and shared them with the others. They leaned into the flame of his lighter. “The abbot begged me to rid myself of this filthy habit by using prayer and humility. Instead I have passed it on to my brothers.”
“It isn’t an addiction if you restrict yourself to the hours between midnight and two, the time everyone retires until Lauds,” said Brother Salvatore, the youngest looking of all the monks.
“I didn’t say I had an addiction. I can stop any time. It’s just something I look forward to—like dessert.” Brother Enrico could see the flash out of the corner of his eye, but before his brain could register it, the horrible din filled everyone’s ears. “What was that?”
“Look,” said Brother Alonzo. “Isn’t that the eremo? It’s probably the gas tank. I never thought that was wise to add a gas tank so close to the community.”
“The tank’s been there for thirty years, Brother Alonzo. I don’t think they had enough brothers who wanted to devote months, let alone years, as hermits without it. Yes, they had fireplaces for the snow months and candles for over a thousand years, but there was a bigger chance for a fire if they had continued to use those. From what I hear, the wood stove in the chapel did little to remove the chill of a snowy February night. In their bathrobes, Abbot Rafaello and a number of others emerge onto the portico to watch the glow that enveloped the treetops near the crest of the mountain. “What did it look like?” he asked the three cooks.
“I only saw a flash,” admitted Brother Enrico, snuffing out the cigarette with his foot. “What about you, Brother Alonzo?”
“It was tall, way above the trees. I didn’t see the remnants of the blast rising from behind the trees. I only saw it fall. You know, like fireworks. It exploded above the treetops and then slowly subsided.”
A simultaneous awe hissed through the small crowd that now circled the fountain.
“Are you saying it burst again when it was above the treetops? Were there bright lights like the kind you see in a professional show?” asked Brother Enrico.
“No,” said Brother Alonzo. “Not that spectacular. More like a failed rocket launch. What did you see, Brother Salvatore?”
“Nothing. I was concentrating on trying to keep my cigarette lit. I found that if you keep your head down, watching your feet, the others protect it from the breezes.”
“At least Brother Enrico had the sense to get rid of his in my presence, Brothers, “said the abbot. “I suggest you crush out yours now and dispose of the remnants in the garbage. I don’t want to see stubs all over the flagstone.” Abbot Rafaello gazed at the fading glow. “Whatever it was, it looks like it’s under control. I haven’t received any calls requesting help from us. I suppose they phoned for help from Collinaterra or Avalle if it was necessary.”
“Maybe you think the gas tank was a bad idea,” said Brother Enrico. “But creating the road to the top was a good one. I’d hate to have to trek up there in the dark.”
“I wouldn’t call it a road. It’s more like a wide path.” said Brother Alonzo. “I don’t know how they get the big trucks up there when someone’s ill.”
“They usually manage,” said the abbot, rounding up his flock. “I think I hear the timers going off. The loaves must be ready. The rest of us can now head back to bed. I’m sure we’ll get the news first thing at breakfast. The party’s over. Everything seems to be under control.”
Sister Angela took the long way to the bishop’s palace. Her mother superior had received the call from Father Sergio, the bishop’s assistant, right after breakfast. Someone had to cover her morning classes because Sister Angela was needed for a meeting at the palace.
Mother Margareta’s first inclination must have been to turn down the priest’s request. Who did the school have to teach her classes? They used to have the postulant step in, but Sister Daniela was now a teacher with a class of her own. They had a new postulant, Sister Eloisa, with no experience at all in the classroom. Perhaps she could help out. Father Sergio had no idea what he was demanding of this scuola media. They could lose Sister Eloisa. She might panic if she had to face students, barely younger than herself, while the headmaster sat and judged her from the back of the classroom. Which was worse, fighting Father Sergio or dealing with a terrified postulant?
Spring was definitely in full bloom. Sister Angela sat on a bench to admire the rows of grapevines growing down the hillside of Montriano. While only a few weeks earlier, the pruned branches were bare revealing the dusty earth below, the branches now were laden with new green leaves and tiny, star-like flowers. In between the rows, flowers bloomed in brilliant colors.
The sweet smell she inhaled now would, in just a couple of months, mature to the musty smell of grapes, ready to be crushed into wine. She could almost taste it. She sat back. But why hurry it? This beauty and the warmth of a pending summer would do. Pushing herself up, she continued around the side of the hill. She still had ten minutes to enjoy the views before making her way back to the palace.
Sister Angela ambled through the courtyard of the bishop’s palace, admiring the fountain and garden along the inside walls. Arriving at the covered walkway, she made her way through the large doors. The air-conditioning inside brushed her cheeks.
The last time she attended a meeting with Father Sergio in the large conference room, she had hesitated to admire the fifteenth-century paintings and scrolls that lined the walls. At that time, he threatened to seize her veil for not following her vocation. A bit intimidating, yes. But she also had the support of her mother superior and the secretary general. She had no idea what the bishop’s assistant had in mind for her this time and was actually curious why Mother Margherita did not insist on attending too. She opened the door to find the same large room with a long table and richly upholstered chairs. In one of chairs, about halfway down the table, Father Sergio sat to examine some papers laid out in front of him.
“I hope I’m not late,” said Sister Angela.
“Oh?” he said, failing to glance in her direction. “It does not matter. I was just checking the testi
Sister Angela could not believe what she heard. This must be the wrong Father Sergio.
He looked up. “Sit here,” he said, patting the chair beside him.
She did as instructed and glanced at the papers, the print too small for her to read without her glasses.
“I suppose your mother superior informed you why I asked for you.”
“No, she told me nothing.”
“I had to get her blessing.”
Sister Angela squirmed. “I suppose there has been an incident of some kind. Why wouldn’t Allesandro and his partner, Lazaro, call me themselves?”
“This is not under the jurisdiction of Montriano’s police department. It is ours.”
“If this is a serious crime, it’s important that the authorities be involved, Father. I would report to them. Perhaps I’m not the right person…”
“You consider yourself a good detective, do you not?”
“I have some skills, yes.”
“Then the diocese would like to request your services on a case.”
“And Mother Margarita agrees?”
“I am afraid I did not give her a choice—and I do not think I have mentioned giving you one either.”
Sister Angela sat back. Now this is the Father Sergio I know, she said to herself.
Someone stuck his head in the door. “Can I get you two something to drink?”
“Yes, Brother. Could you bring us some coffee?”
Sister Angela cleared her throat. “And some cold water,” she said.
When the head disappeared, Father Sergio turned his chair so that he faced her. “There was an incident at the Santo Velo Monastery outside Avalle last night.”
“Was anyone hurt?”
“There might have been one fatality—the scientific word for death.”
“Ah,” she said, wondering why he would put it that way. “They aren’t sure?”
“It looks like one of the hermit brothers might be dead.”
“Have we found a culprit?”
“If there is one…”
“I hope it wasn’t a suicide,” she said. “That would be very uncomfortable to deal with—though not unique. In 2003, a brother…”
“I am not sure of that. There was an explosion in the hermitage on the mountain above the monastery. Early this morning, the police checked it out. They could not find a body, but seemed to be stymied by the lack evidence after they scanned the scene in the dark.”
“But surely they continued to search in the daylight.”
“The eremo is now closed to everyone.”
The nun rolled her eyes, picturing the police chief’s fury at another alleged Church cover-up. “There were witnesses, I presume.”
“Yes, there were brothers from lower on the hill who witnessed the flash followed by a loud blast. The police also reported that there were witnesses in the eremita community, but they were unable to collect the details.”
“They don’t speak without permission, am I correct?”
“There are keepers who tend to their needs. They began to talk to police, but Father Rafaello, the abbot, has called them as well and told them not to speak.”
“The abbot didn’t want anything disclosed to the police?”
“That is not the case. Father Rafaello did not want details revealed until the Church has had time to witness the scene first.”
“Surely the police looked at the blast site and gathered evidence before they spoke with the abbot.”
“Of course they would have done what they were there to do. I have not seen their report, however, because it is still early. I would rather get a report from someone within the Church. There are rumors that some brothers have already agreed that what they witnessed was some kind of a surreal event.” He knitted his brows. “Perhaps surreal does not convey what they think. The Sci-fi people seem to have run off with some of the vocabulary that we in the Church would like to use.”
“Perhaps the word you’re looking for is spiritual or transcendent, Father. At least I think those words are still ours.”
“But they should be reserved to describe what happened after the investigation is complete, Sister. I need you to go into the situation with an open mind.”
“But if you expect me to confirm a miracle for the Church, you might be sorely disappointed.”
Father Sergio smiled. “The bishop and I already feel that this is a miracle, Sister Angela. What we would like is confirmation. That is why I need you.”
“And you promise not to interfere with my findings or seize my veil if I prove the situation to be something other than what you want?”
This time Father Sergio laughed. The nun had never seen him without his usual scowl. She actually found his smile, his face, handsome. Why had she not noticed this before?
“I shall do my best not to interfere with the investigation, Sister Angela.” Still jovial, he collected the loose papers on the table and stuffed them into a manila folder. Then he stood to leave. “As for the results of your investigation I promise nothing. I know you will conclude what you think is right and just. Like that explosion on the hill, you always vent what is on your mind. I will not, however, promise to protect you from ‘the loss of your veil,’ as you choose to phrase it. It is not me you have to please. It is the bishop himself. He has a good track record in obtaining the approvals from the Holy See and the Secretary General for both dismissals and depositions of those within his district.”
Sister Angel remained seated as he disappeared, the door closing behind him. She could hear his footsteps on the black and white marble tiles in the hallway. When silence returned, she realized the coffee and water never arrived. Did Father Sergio and the brother have a code that if he asks for coffee it means he would only be a few minutes and that the brother should not deliver the request?
It was all an illusion. Yes, Father Sergio would direct the investigation from the palace. She could do nothing about that. The best thing would be for her to report clues to him often so he could pull her at any time. The new Father Sergio was the old Father Sergio. She would cope. She squirmed in her chair. But it was not really the old Father Sergio that worried her. The man who made her situation difficult, that made her skin crawl, was one who really did not know her. If what Father Sergio had intimated was true, the actual puppeteer would be the bishop himself.
Odds and Ends
“Good morning, Alessandro. How are your wife and lovely children?” Sister Angela asked as she sat down to face him across the desk.
“Very well, Sister. I haven’t been as busy lately so I can spend more time with them. Are you here to ask me to assign you something?” asked Alessandro DiMarco, Montriano’s senior detective. “Sorry to say, I don’t have anything right now. What am I saying? We’re lucky it is so quiet in Montriano.”
“No, no, my students would love to have their teacher for an uninterrupted school year. Unfortunately, Father Sergio told me that he would send a car to the school at three. I have to be ready to go. I wish you would find a way to come with me,” said Sister Angela, still trying to catch her breath after the short hike up the road from the bishop’s palace.
“What’s the case about?” DiMarco asked.
“One of the hermit cells blew up. The monks all think the hermit who lived there ascended. Of course, we are all ascended when we die, but there are usually few witnesses.”
“It’s always difficult to prove that phenomenon, Sister. That’s why it’s a challenge for someone to be canonized.” A smile played at the corners of DiMarco’s lips. “Usually you can find more evidence to disprove it.”
“And evidence is what we look for. I understand. They must be talking about a physical ascension. That would be impossible to find evidence for—unless one of them had a cell with a camera. I must make a note to ask the bishop to provide them all with one.”
“It sounds like you have your work cut
“Yes. I’ll also have my red cell phone, and Abbot Father Rafaello can always get messages to me by calling his number.”
“We hope to have you back before the end of summer, Sister. Perhaps we’ll enjoy an uneventful one here. That would be nice.”
“And unlikely,” said Sister Angela as she hurried out; she could almost smell lunch being served at the school.
The trek down the hill was faster. Sister Angela headed directly for the cafeteria. There she chose pasta and a salad. Mother Margherita sat alone in her usual spot. Sister Angela slid in across from her.
“I would tell you that I prefer to have a meal in peace, Sister,” the mother superior said, failing to look up. “But obviously quiet will soon prevail—after you have left us. Dinnertime will be spent in the calm tranquility that’s necessary for our health.”
“So Sister Eloisa has agreed to teach my class. It will give her good experience. They’re wonderful students, Mother.” She attacked her pasta with relish.
“Don’t forget that I will be there too, Sister. I won’t have time for my own work, keeping the school running. I hope you have written lesson plans for the next few months.”
“Yes. They’re on my laptop. I’ll send them to you when I get back to my room.”