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"May God forgive us for the weakness of our spirits," John heard himself add on to the end of the prayer. "The gratitude of the wayward soul is the sincerity of the starved dog." He looked up and saw some of the brothers staring at him. "Amen."
The brothers reluctantly echoed his last word and, after an awkward silence, began to pass around the food.
"That was rather interesting," Mercer said as he filled his coffee mug and passed the thermal carafe to John. "What do you say for dinner? 'Blessed be the serial killers, or else the devil would have no one to torment'?"
"If you don't like my act," John replied, "don't put me on a stage."
Breakfast was a Spartan selection of hot oatmeal, cold cereal, and waffles, as the Franciscans believed in ample but plain food. Still, there was plenty of fruit on the table, as well as black tea and orange juice to relieve the blandness of the main dishes.
John expected the brothers to eat in silence, as was traditional at the abbey where he had gone after returning in disgrace from South America. Mercer again surprised him by asking questions and encouraging conversation about the tasks that needed to be accomplished for the day. He listened as the brothers spoke about their individual responsibilities, and offered advice or decisions as needed.
"There was a terrible news report on the radio this morning," one of the younger friars said. "The body of a man was found in the yard of a summer home belonging to an importer and his wife. They said the dead man had been mutilated."
Now Mercer looked as if someone had shoved hot peppers in his mouth. "That is not something we wish to discuss at the table, Brother Robert."
"I only thought… it might be a sign of things to come, Father," Robert said, his gaze shifting around the table. "We were told to watch, weren't we?"
"Being watchful," Ignatius told him, "does not mean babbling on about the sins of the world."
"We do work in the outside world, so it is a good thing to keep in touch with what is happening there," Mercer said. "Robert, I would prefer you not listen to the radio in the mornings. The news programs put out a great deal of inappropriate material for their listeners, who are almost always caught in rush-hour traffic. Their stories are entertaining, even shocking, but rarely do they inform us of the facts."
John stared at the abbot and opened his mouth to tell him he was full of it. An image of him hammering nails into shingles made him return his attention to the cold waffle on his plate.
"Someone will have to attend to the services," Brother Ignatius said, at the same time giving Robert a final, hard glare. "Seeing as you were up all night again, Father."
"My insomnia is a plague on us all," Mercer said. "John, if you're feeling rested, Brother Nicholas could use your help in the gardens."
"Brother Nicholas?" He looked down both sides of the table. When the elderly, windblown friar who had woken him for matins lifted his spoon and waved it, John leaned over and said to the abbot in a lower voice, "He's your gardener?"
"It was that or the kitchens," Mercer murmured back. "Try to keep him from using the electrical equipment. He fancies himself a handyman, but yesterday he almost electrocuted himself after rewiring the hedge trimmer."
"Should Brother Patrick make a trip into town for us today?" one of the younger friars, a nervous, fair-haired man in his twenties, asked. "There are several things Brother Paul will need for the infirmary."
"I'd rather stay on the grounds and familiarize myself with the abbey," John said. He noted the glances the brothers were exchanging with one another, and how some seemed to be fearful. "I'll keep out of the way, of course. I don't want to cause any disruption of your routines."
"You already have, Brother," Ignatius said.
"We will all agree that change is often a good thing," Mercer countered before John could reply. "It gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves and see if we are fulfilling the vows we have made."
"The vow," Brother Nicholas said, pounding the handle on his spoon on the table in emphasis. "Before all others. That is everything. That is…" He drifted off, staring at his spoon for a moment before digging into his oatmeal without another word.
"That reminds me," Mercer said. "We have a number of lightbulbs in the cloister that need changing. Brother Joshua, please attend to these. Is there any other business to discuss?" He looked around the silent table. "Very well, then. I would prefer not to be disturbed until vespers. A good day to you, brothers."
"And to you, Father," the men replied in chorus.
"If you're finished pretending to eat those waffles, John," the abbot said as he rose from the table, "I'll show you where we keep the gardening equipment."
"Why am I here instead of at home trying to sleep through Gloria's game shows?" Harry demanded as he dropped his tray on the cafeteria lunch table.
Sam was tired, too. She'd had the strangest night, dreaming nonstop about making love with Lucan the nightclub owner, of all people. "Garcia decided at the last minute to put us all on switch shifts until the new guys are trained." Which meant she'd be working days and nights for another month or two, assuming she lived that long.
"I still can't believe they're letting that chickenshit bastard come back here." Her partner dropped into his chair hard enough to make the leg ends squeal against the scarred terrazzo floor. "Screw Garcia; take your vacation time."
"I'll run out of that eventually," Sam reminded him as she removed the plastic lid from her coffee cup, "and he'll be here waiting when I get back." She added one sugar and saw her partner grimace and massage his chest. "Take your pills before you eat. Gloria will beat me if you mess up the trip to Cancún."
"Don't know why I've got to take her to Mexico, for Christ's sake. We've got the prettiest beaches in the world right here." Harry shook out a pair of tablets from a brown bottle and popped them in his mouth. "She's planning another frigging surprise party, too, isn't she?"
"Next Friday, right after we get off here. She said you'd better look surprised, too, or else." Sam awkwardly used her right hand to push a plastic fork through her fruit-and-nut salad. She'd taken the gauze bandage off her left hand, but it was still sore. "You hear anything about this guy Suarez?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Ortenza knows him from EC. Says he's not real happy about a female partner, or working graveyard."
"Ortenza is so full of shit that he can play good cop/bad cop by himself," she reminded him.
"Yeah, my feeling." Her partner picked up his chicken sandwich and tried a bite. "The guy is supposed to be tight with Garcia. He recommended Suarez for the slot."
"Good for him." Sam wasn't going to resent Suarez sight unseen. She knew how it felt.
They ate in silence for a few minutes, until a shadow fell between them on the table. Sam looked up into black sunglasses. The man wearing them was about her height, Hispanic, and built like the front end of a truck. He wore a dress uniform with lieutenant bars gleaming on his collar. Blue lights reflected in his coal-black hair, which he wore in a long but neatly combed style.
Ex-undercover, she guessed. And very, very cool.
"You Detective Brown?" When she nodded, he held out a broad, square brown hand with discreetly manicured nails. "Adam Suarez. Good to meet you."
"You, too, Lieutenant." She liked the fact that he didn't talk to her tits, as most male officers did when they met her, and shook his hand. From the grip she surmised his strength, which was sinewy and tight, and the fact that he was careful not to use it on her. "My partner, Harry Quinn." She waited until the two men shook hands, and nodded to an empty chair. "Join us?"
"Thanks, but I can't. I've got a briefing to catch." He took out a business card and put it on the table. "If you have a minute, give me a call. I'm on swings in EC until I move to Homicide. Have a good shift." With a nod for Harry, Suarez walked off.
"Woo-hoo, he talks pretty. You see the gleam on that brass?" Harry waggled his brows. "Elvis hair, too. Looks better without the chunky sideburns. Think he plays the girl, or Garcia does?"
Sam snorted. "Why do guys automatically assume that a well-groomed, nicely dressed, polite man is gay?"
"How would I know?" Her partner held up his hands. "I'm the straightest guy on the force, remember?"
She studied his rumpled jacket and the blob of mayonnaise that had landed on his tie. "If you're the prime example of heterosexuality around here, then the human race is doomed."
"The sun's going to blow up anyway in three billion years," Harry consoled her. "Better to die off than burn up."
Sam picked at her salad. Although she generally enjoyed the unusual combination of flavors, she didn't feel like eating much. The fact that her usual lunch hour was midnight didn't help. Harry gobbled up his meal with no problems, all the while complaining about the retirement cruise he would be taking with his wife.
Last night's dream wouldn't get off her back or, more precisely, out from between her legs. She had had her share of erotic dreams in the past, but this one had seemed so real. There was something else, too—while she'd been rolling around in a tangle of sheets with Lucan, she'd felt different. As if she knew he needed her for something other than the extremely intimate things he had been doing to her body. As if they were supposed to be together.
But why was she having wet dreams about a murder suspect?
Forcing aside her inappropriate fantasy, Sam went back to listening to Harry's ramblings. She envied her partner. After his party next Friday, he had nothing more to do than kick back and relax and putter around the house for the rest of his life. She had to face working with Suarez, who might accept her problem—or use it to make sure that she was bounced off the force.