Part 9: By Observing the Law

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, it is through the law that we become conscious of sin.   Romans 3:20


Curiosity niggled at Maggie for quite some time.  Why would Sister Catherine have lied about knowing Sister Sarah?  Maybe she hadn’t known her.  Sarah could’ve been new at the Sisters of Mercy.  But Lexie had been so sure.  Maggie needed to be that sure, too—one way or the other.  It seemed very important somehow as old habits of suspicion and distrust resurfaced.  She took Lexie with her as she searched for today’s paper.  Splashed across the front page was the story of Sister Sarah’s murder.  She gave Lexie a kid’s magazine to read to keep her busy.  As Maggie read the article, two important pieces of information jumped out at her.  Sarah had been with the sisters for almost five years.  The Sisters of Mercy had always been a small group, rarely having more than a dozen nuns at a time.  Catherine had been lying.  She was with the sisters for three years before she came to Mary of the Woods little over a year ago—which meant she worked with Sarah for three years.  There was no way that with such a small group of women in their convent that she wouldn’t have known her.  Why would she lie? 


Then something else occurred to her.  Sister Catherine had transferred several times before coming to Mary of the Woods.  She’d been at the convents the two murdered nuns were from.  Catherine probably knew them, too.  She knew all the victims!  “Lexie?  I’m sorry I didn’t believe you about Sister Catherine.  She was lying.  I’ll try to be more receptive next time, ok?”


“M’ky.”  Lexie was sucking on her thumb.


“Why are you doing that?”


“I cut my thumb on the paper.  Do you have anything to make it not smell funny?  I don’t like old pennies.”


Maggie shook her head with a smile.  “What is it with you and old pennies?”


Lexie stuck her thumb up to Maggie’s face.  “Smell it.”


It smelled like blood.  What else would it..?  Blood…copper…old pennies?  “Lexie.  Is this what you smelled on Sister Catherine?  The exact same thing?”


“Uh, huh.  Only it was older.  Maybe she cut her finger, too—only last night or something.”  Lexie went back to sucking on her finger before the taste started to bother her and she made an “icky” face.  She bit into one of the cookies Sister Marie gave her.  That was much better.


“Come with me!”  She grabbed Lexie’s hand and hurried down several hallways before coming to stop in front of a door.  “I want to see if you smell something here.  Now don’t try too hard.  Just relax and listen to me.  Now take a little whiff.  What do you smell?”


“Old pennies.  It’s stronger here.”


Maggie knocked on the door.  “Sister Catherine?  May I talk to you a moment?  Sister Catherine?”  Maggie turned the knob and slowly opened the door.  She shouldn’t be going in, she shouldn’t be going in.  She had to go in.  “Tell me where the smell is strongest in the room.”


Lexie walked around wrinkling her nose.  She stopped in front of the closet.  “Here.  Old pennies and dead leaves, too.  It’s really yucky.  I don’t want to smell anymore.”  She stopped moving, staring at the closet. 


“Oh, honey.  I’m sorry.  I don’t know what I’m doing dragging you around, making you look at things and smell people’s stuff.”  She grabbed Lexie’s hand, talking with a soothing voice.  “Don’t try again, honey.  It’s ok.  Um, pretend you have a slight cold.  Think about how your nose would feel if it were plugged up just a little.  Say something please.  I’m here.  It’s ok.  Does that help?  Is the smell weaker now?”


Lexie blinked and turned to look at her.  “Yeah.  I can only smell it a little.”


“Go sit on the bed while I look in the closet.”  Why was she doing this?  She was breaking about a million rules rifling through Sister Catherine’s belongings.  Something was driving her.  She knew this was important.  All the old suspicions and paranoias she’d developed working for the CIA were bursting to life inside her after being dormant for so long.  Then she spied something rust-colored and crusty—something she’d seen before in her previous line of work.  She pulled out one of Catherine’s habits.  Several splatters of dark, dried blood stained the front of it.  And the smell of dead leaves.  Hadn’t the paper said Sister Sarah was found in a pile of mulch?  Oh, no.  No, no, no.  That couldn’t be right.  Not a nun.  But the blood…  Maggie put the habit back exactly where she found it.  What was she going to do?


“Sister Maggie?  Somebody’s coming.”  Lexie had her head cocked to the side.  “They’re walking up the other hall this way.”


Maggie opened the door a crack and peered out.  “They’re not here, yet.  Come on.”  The two of them slipped out the door and disappeared around the corner.


Sister Catherine returned to her room.  She had the oddest feeling when she walked in.  The first thing she noticed was her bed.  It was slightly rumpled.  She never left her bed in anything but a pristine, smooth state.  As she walked to the bed to fix it, Catherine stepped on something crunchy.  She bent down to see what it was.  A chocolate chip cookie.  The young woman with Sister Maggie.  Perhaps this was a sign.  She had planned to expose the heathen Maggie to the world after the next Sabbath, but she would have to do it today.  She opened the drawer of her nightstand and pulled out a long knife.    


Maggie and Lexie ran into Sister Marie on their way.  “Sister Maggie.  I’ve been looking everywhere for you!  Mother Agnes sent me to find you.  There are two men from the police station in the common room here to see you.  They want to ask you some questions.  She didn’t say why.”


She didn’t need to.  Maggie was last one to see the infamous Alex Barnes before her escape.  “Marie.  I need a favor.  Could you take Lexie to the kitchen with you for a while?”


“It won’t be any trouble at all.”


“I have to talk to some important people.  I need you to go with Sister Marie and behave yourself.  Ok?”


“Ok.  I’ll be good so she’ll give me more cookies!”


Maggie rolled her eyes and went to the main common room to meet the police.  She was at once struck by the odd pairing of the two.  The taller one was definitely ex-military.  The younger one…maybe he just got out of vice or an undercover assignment?  “Hello, I’m Sister Maggie.  May I help you?”


“I’m Detective Jim Ellison.  This is my partner, Blair Sandburg.  We need to ask you a few questions about your visits to the asylum yesterday and today.”


“What is this about, Detective?”


“One of the prisoners you visited escaped today right after your visit.  We were hoping you might be able to help us.”


In the kitchen


Sister Catherine walked into the kitchen.  “Sister Marie.  The Mother Superior is looking for you.  She said you were supposed to be typing some reports for her?”


“Oh, no!  I forgot!  But what about Lexie?  I suppose I could take her with me, but she’d be so bored.  Looking at her you wouldn’t imagine how much like a little girl she is.  Children always need something to do to keep them out of trouble.”


“Maybe she could come with me?  Mother Agnes asked me to take a look at the beachfront property Mr. Beumont left the convent in his will.  She could play in the sand while I survey the area.”


Marie was taken aback.  Sister Catherine never did favors for anyone and everyone could tell she didn’t really like children.  “Um, well, that would be fine.  Lexie?  Could you come here for a moment?  I have some work to do, but Sister Catherine said you could go with her to the beach for a little bit.  Would you like that?”


“I don’t know…  I’m supposed to wait for Sister Maggie.”


Sister Catherine smiled at her.  “Sister Marie can tell her where we’ve gone, won’t you?”


“Of course.”


“And Sister Maggie can meet us there when she’s done.  Ok?”


Lexie listened carefully, but Sister Catherine’s heart wasn’t making any funny noises.  She wasn’t lying.  And she didn’t smell so bad this time.  But Lexie couldn’t smell so good.  Her nose still felt stuffy.  “Ok.”


Back in the common room


…and you don’t have any idea where she could’ve gone?”


“As I said, Detective Ellison.  I didn’t speak to her.  She was in a coma.  When I left, she was still in a coma.”  Maggie mentally crossed herself.  Now she was a liar, too.  How much more would she compromise?  And what could she tell them about Catherine?  She didn’t think they would believe her about Lexie, so why would they believe her about Catherine?  The idea of a killer nun sounded too far-fetched.


Blair Sandburg paced in front of her.  “You know she stole nerve toxin, don’t you?  And then she threatened to release it.  This isn’t the kind of person you’d want to help.  I tried to help her once and she shot me and left me to drown.”


Maggie couldn’t help but think of the mercy Alex had been shown—given another chance as Lexie.  She was now resolute.  She would not throw away Lexie’s second chance.  “I’m sorry, Mister Sandburg.  I don’t know anything that could help.” 


She noticed Detective Ellison looking at her strangely.  He had his head slightly cocked to one side just like…Lexie?  Lexie only did that when she was using her super hearing.  Did that mean..?  Surely not!  Two of them?  Was he listening to see if she was lying?  Oh, no!  She stood up abruptly.  “If there’s nothing else, I really need to get back to my duties.”


“Sorry to have taken up so much of your time.  If you think of anything at all, please call us.”


“I will.  Thank you.”  Maggie was puzzled by how the interview had gone.  The detective had started off asking her about Alex, then switched to questioning her about the murdered nuns, then went back to asking her about Alex again.  Did the police think there was a connection between Alex’s escape and the serial killer?  And all the while Detective Ellison had listened to her with that tilted head and intense concentration. 


Maggie went to the window to watch them as they walked to their truck.  She had to know if he was different, too.  How could she know for sure?  An idea struck her.  She spoke clearly.  “Won’t the Detective get a surprise when he sees what’s on the other side of his truck?”


She watched as Ellison suddenly pushed his partner to the ground and pulled out his gun.  He circled the truck, examining it carefully before he put his weapon away.  He turned back to the convent, looking straight at Maggie.  She had her answer.  He knew she’d lied.  And now he knew she had discovered his secret.


“What’s wrong, Jim?”


“Sister Maggie knows what I can do, Sandburg.  And there’s only one person she could’ve gotten that information from.”  The two of them got in the truck and drove down the road until they were out of sight for anyone form the convent, but not out of Jim’s range.



Part 10