"The Jingle Bell Bum" (Read The Touching True Story...please!) Comment at patriciahanrion.com

"The Jingle Bell Bum" (Read The Touching True Story...please!) Comment at patriciahanrion.com
Still available on Amazon for Nook and Kindle, hard copy booklett to re-print November 2013

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"I blew up the Christmas Tree and almost burned the house down!"

Our California house in Christmas Glory!
The new owners will never match this!

It's a beautiful day today, blue sky, white fluffy clouds, and the newscaster said it would rain...I guess if your a weather person it doesn't matter what you say! It was supposed to rain and snow last week...I didn't do that either...It hasn't snowed for 20 years and It's never snowed around Christmas. I guess that's why I always tried to create a perfect holiday since we don't even have the cold weather to add to the spirit. I can blame almost burning the house down twice to the great California weather.

(Now we are in Arizona, with no fireplace...my husband is very glad.)

But, I digress....this is the story of my quest for the perfect Christmas which pretty much exploded right along with the Christmas tree...innocently of course. That year to save money we cut our own tree and it was quite lopsided...however...we put it in a corner to disguise the misshapen limbs, then after the children and I had it all decorated, (Patrick was at a church meeting and we were going to surprise him when he got home with our beautiful decorated tree.) I decided to straighten out the crooked limbs by snipping some of the parts that stuck out with the garden sheers....(BAD decision)

Well you guessed it...I snipped through the strings of lights and when the live wires came in contact with the metal sheers all the strings of
Safely away from fireplaces and real Christmas trees in Arizona
lights and half the ornaments exploded in one horrific POP SIZZLE. Now the kids were delighted...never had they seen such a grand display of fireworks...and right inside the house...I had to open all the back windows to get the smoke and electric smell out.  and quickly loaded the kids in the car, Pajamas and all...and we drove to the Do It Center and bought new lights and several boxes of ornaments. We had the tree all re-decorated by the time Pat got home and he never knew the difference...until the kids told him about the light show!

A few years after that I almost set the house on fire. I was once again naive enough to try and come up with the perfect Rockwell moment (since we don't have snow). 

I've given up the quest for holiday perfection and I don't try that anymore, but at the time I still thought I could make it happen. Anyway, it was around five in the morning, dark and cold....unusual for December, I wanted the family to come down the stairs to see a beautiful lit tree surrounded by gifts...a fire in the fireplace with hot chocolate and warm sweet rolls set out.

Now, remember it's rarely cold enough to light a fire so we have not had many fires in the fireplace, and even then they were started by Patrick or Michael with their Eagle Scout skills put into play...But I... in my exuberance thought I had seen them do it enough to get the yule log going myself...not so...I had the flue shut! Oh I got the paper and twigs under the log blazing away, but the smoke rolled out into the living room like a thick black blanket..realizing my mistake I tried to reach in and push the handle the other way, but by now the flames were not only going...they were licking up and out of the fireplace setting the garland and some of the other decorations on the mantle, on fire.

The fire alarm went off (which usually means dinner is ready, as my cooking skills are a bit lacking) and big Pat came bounding down the stairs. He and son Michael threw water at the fire and had it out in seconds. but the black smoke had laid a thick layer of soot up the front of the fireplace and across the ceiling. All the decorations near by had melted into green and red blobs. What a mess. I was so mad at myself and could only think of having to clean up along with getting the turkey dinner on the table for the 26 people we were expecting to arrive in about 4 hours.

Without even stopping to scold myself I pulled it together and went to work with cleaner and got the soot removed immediately. I moved around some of my decorations and filled in the empty places where things had gone up in smoke. The only thing left was the smokey smell and I got rid of that by opening all the windows and doors (learned from experience) and lighting some candles. By the time Patrick came back down the stairs with a camera to record my fiasco...HA! the mess was gone! And thank goodness there was no record of my mistake to show our guests or tease me with....

Now...I must brag...One year we had the perfect outdoor display of holiday decorations. You see our house looks a bit like the Griswold's house in the movie "Christmas Vacation" (When we were done I put up a sign saying "Griswold's" and freaked out the mailman as he thought we had moved...he had never seen the movie with Chevy Chase.)

Michael, our youngest son had always wanted to put up tons of lights so I said okay...not realizing the pull of electricity would constantly flip the fuses and turn off lights everywhere in the house. We solved the problem by running electric cords from different outlets all around the place. I must have run to the hardware store ten times, not only for lights, but new extension cords...and that year the bill was outrageous...but it was worth it.

Ever since then the neighbors have tried to keep up with the extravagance even though we only put up the 60 strings of lights one time. And it was the only time my grand plans turned out okay...well almost, except for having to reset the breakers several times every evening.
Mike proud of his illumination victory in 2010



Since Michael got married and moved away, (He was my partner in Holiday illumination) I 've been cured of trying to have our holiday resemble anything close to what you see in any of the classic Christmas films...and as my decorations get faded or broken I force myself not to replace them. So each year the boxes I drag out of the loft gets smaller in number and next year I'm going to order a cooked turkey from the grocery store. Heck, the weather's great and I've got better things to do than cook!  (Like plan my next fiasco)
Patricia, daughters Colleen & Megan, grand daughter Jess...crazy decorating

Happy Christmas to All
God Bless Us Everyone

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I'm Painting My Front Door Red,


“I’m painting my front door red” 
 
The Queen from wonderland said,
“You will be losing your head."
 
The CC&R’s are quite clear
The penalty’s very severe
 
Yet I can’t stop myself from this task
And if anyone should question or ask
 
 have my response rightly planned
Should constabulary come to demand,
 
“A fine you must pay today
And repaint without delay!”

 
So I’ll say:
 
I thought it was on the list, AND…I’m color blind, have presbyopia, presbycusis, red eyes from pink eye,  But, don’t you think it’s a lovely color? The hardware store must have mixed it wrong, …it’s not my fault! And I’m not changing it!
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Escalante Ebola"



       
 

Prologue
Late Afternoon, spring, 1778
Bagootsoo Mesa
Nation of the Paiute
Territory of Spain

      NeZhoni sat atop the towering pillar of stone drinking in the view of the swaying spring grass.      
     She thought, “Finally, the treasure is hidden…the duty done.” 
     Her baby tied securely to her back began to wiggle and stretch. She would need to feed him soon. A lone hawk circled in the warm updraft and squawked in surprise at the intruders invading his realm.
      “The many years of hiding secrets from the man I love are behind me, and my heavy heart can lie still.
     The cavern had been cool for most of the work, but after the steep climb to the mouth of the shaft, she was hot and red dirt dusted her hair. She completed her task by dropping strings of red stones into the burial tube, and pushing the heavy capstone over the opening.  To conceal the last clue to the treasure NeZhoni planted small cactus and sifted fine sand into the cracks surrounding the capstone. Then she arranged rocks, and ashes to look like an old campfire to disguise the opening to below.
     She released the plump baby from his cradleboard and looked down into his dark green eyes flecked with gold. They were her eyes, the ones that had attracted the man who took her from her family. It seemed so long ago, but now she realized her sacrifice was for a good purpose. 
     As she fed her son she remembered times past and talked to him, “Mijo, all is in place for others to follow the guide I’ve prepared for them. Only you and I know of this legacy. It must come to pass so our blood can continue for many generations and your children’s children may find happiness mi pequeño amor.” 
     Her memory was clear about the strangely dressed traveling men who came to winter camp. She was a little girl then, and afraid as she peeked out from behind her father’s robes to see the tall men. She could not understand why the tribal council would not fight these men in their shining hats. But she knew they had many things to barter and trade. Later, she heard her father say, “Why lose many braves and end up with nothing when we can gain new tools and weapons for our people.” 
     On that day long ago she was noticed by one of the strangers. He admired her fair skin, and emerald eyes. A week later as the caravan of horses and wagons prepared to leave, the bargain was made.
     “NeZhoni, you will go with these men as payment for the mustangs we will gain for the hunt. One man has promised to care for you and if you serve him well; he may bring you back to us for a season.”     There was no choice. NeZhoni knew she had to go. She remembered walking slowly over to a man called Diego and how she stood behind him with her head down to hide her tears and her fear. But this man had treated her kindly. He was wise and taught her his language and ways of worship and to read and to write. They laughed together as she taught him the medicine in plants and after many seasons he made her his woman. 
    Always she went quietly about her duties. The men of the quest ignored her as if she was nothing. Then, as she learned their language she also learned the secrets of their treasure for they spoke freely in front of her. At first, she only took a few of the golden things within the heavy crates to cut into trinkets for hair adornments. Then, when no one noticed, she began to take larger amounts and hide it with her belongings. There was so much. NeZhoni deposited the growing treasure in a hidden place whenever she travelled to her tribal valley. She never knew why she felt so compelled to carry out this deception but remained firm in her resolution that it was right.
     Gladly today was to be the last of her trickery. She would no longer have to fear discovery.
      Gently she placed her son on the carrying board after feeding him. She wrapped the soft straps around the wriggling bundle to secure him. His eyes were closing as she put the sun cover above his head and lifted him upon her back. Shielding her eyes from the brightness, she took one last look at the mountains across the valley to ensure she had all the proper signs precisely written on the underside of her gown.
      She began her way down the treacherous rock face. Anxious to further wash the dirt and stench of death from her hands, she hurried to the basin floor. NeZhoni had used the cleaning sopa root after her labors, but she liked the sweet smelling bars Diego bought for her during their travels. The setting sun had turned the hills blood red and the sky was violet by the time she reached the encampment.
      Her Diego was patiently waiting with their sons at spring camp on the prairie meadow.
      “Hold your son and I will say a word of farewell to my father.”
      She gave him their sleeping small one, and gestured at the structure across the clearing. Her father, Chief Toohoo-Bagootsoo, was in the wiki-up sitting cross-legged on the dirt floor. He was much thinner than she remembered and no longer resembled his namesake; the broad chested black bison. His breath came with a difficult rattling sound. He was suffering from the slow death of the bloody tooth cough.
     In the corner of the enclosure, she changed back into a woven cloth dress, apron and bonnet. With her fair skin and bright green eyes she knew she looked like all the other women traveling in the wagon train. But a part of her would always remain in this valley, beating a drum, while watching the grass wave in the wind and the hawks fly.
     She laid out her ceremonial gown across the stone used to grind grain. As she took out a knife and cut around the part of the soft leather where she had written the guide she thought about the day of her vision:
     It did not seem like six years had passed since she had eaten the ‘Flesh of the Gods’ mushroom in the women’s sweat house. In her waking dream she had asked the spirits to help her suffering people. Her vision showed her a future where people traveled in metal boxes. Roads were made tall on stilts. Homes were shut from the sky and everyone sat before boxes of flickering lights. Skies were clouded with smoke and a spider web spun across the land.
      “Do this,” she heard the ghost voice say, “Or, your people will fade to nothing from illness and greed. You can save them from this suffering with your gift from the past—“ She was given the way to prepare a guide and asked faithful ones to assist in following the plan.
    None of them, could understand the reasons for the peculiar work, but trusted the spirits would ensure that which was hidden would be found. They were saving their hope for children unborn.
     Now the task was finished. And only she and her infant son knew the final secrets. She twisted the hide she had cut from her gown into a roll, positioned it within a Bagootsoo horn and gave it to her father.
      “Honored father, I have done as the spirits wish.”  She placed the carved type and a tattered book in his hands. 
     “These things will show the way to the gift for those who seek. But who-so-ever attempts the quest must do so with a pure heart. I also give the warning from my dream; to follow only when the time is right and the sign is true or tragedy will be at journeys’ end. Honored Father, have not sorrow in your heart, for my life of exile has become a blessing to our people, and to me.”
      She reached out to touch her father’s hand and stroke his sunken cheek. They both knew their next meeting would be in the spirit clouds. The parting was heavy and silent.
      Overhead was a slice of moon and so few stars she could barely see her five sons entwined in the rhythmic unity of sleep. Diego saw her coming, rose quickly from the ground where he sat, and with one motion was in the wagon seat with the reins in his hands. NeZhoni lithely climbed up the wheel and slid across the smooth board to be at his side. She felt the warmth of him and looked up at the wide shoulders and strong profile of the man she had learned to love. He slapped at the reins and urged on the horses. The wagon pulled free of the muddy ruts with a jolt.
     They had many miles of travel to join the others for their journey across the rolling waters. NeZhoni did not look back. There was no need—her world was with her in the wagon.

 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Murder at the Convent

Murder at the Convent,
Working Readers' Radio Theater script from book



Murder at the Convent
Jessica Stewart Student Nurse Series,
by Patricia Hanrion Copyright pending 2014


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Setting:  Phoenix Arizona in the early 1960’s,
Characters:
Ben Watts: Detective who is reminiscing and tells the story.
Isaiah Irons: Chief of Detectives in the Phoenix Police Department
Dr. Alice Dunn: Coconino County Coroner.
Mother Superior: Sister Mary of the Lamb, Abbes at the Good Shepard Convent
Sister Mary full of Grace: Cook for the Convent
Novice Sister: Josetta Mary of the Rose
Novice Sister: Mary Gabriel the sanctified
Student nurse: Jessica Stewart, first year
Opening Music: theme song…fades as Ben begins to speak

Ben:  Back then when I was a cub detective I cut my teeth on a series of murders across the Phoenix area that would curl your hair and taught me all about the importance of bloodhound research, when looking to solve a crime.  My boss, and mentor at the time was Isaiah Irons, a stub of a man, but in this case size does not matter. He originally hailed from the Chicago area, and was as hard as his name implied.  His thin grey comb-over was slicked across his rapidly balding pate which was in sharp contrast to the bunched muscles under his cheap suit.

I was very young and didn’t even have the money for a cheap suit, so after the promotion wore a white shirt with a frayed collar and the tie my mother gave me when I turned 18.

I answered the call for my first case at seven am one summer day with the innocence of a baby needing a pacifier but was soon shocked into adult hood when I heard the unyielding voice of the Mother Superior at the Convent of the Good Shepard.

Foley (phone rings)

Mother Superior: Please help us.  Detective, please, I didn’t know who else I should call…please…come out to the convent. I know it’s a bit of a drive in this heat but Sister Josetta Mary of the Rose didn’t come to morning mass so I went to her cubicle thinking she was ill with the cold so many have been cursed with in the past few weeks.  But I found her on her cot, not breathing, with no pulse, and as chilled as the winter wind. 

Ben: I told her to take a breath and calm down.  “You’ve done the right thing calling us mam; we’ll leave immediately and should be there within the hour. Don’t touch or move anything.  Don’t let anyone in the room and if there is a window keep the area under the window blocked off until we can collect evidence.  If possible, tell as few as possible.”  I heard her weeping softly, “Do you understand mam.”

Mother Superior: “Yes, I do, and since none of our doors lock, I will close the door and have one of our novitiates sit guard until you can arrange to get here.  (She sniffs) Oh Dear, Sister Josetta was only a young girl and about to take her final vows so could not have died from any age related ailment.  I can’t imagine what has happened, but I fear she has condemned her soul.

Ben:  She hung up and I gave the information to the Chief.  He gave a low whistle.

Isaiah: I heard there was a cloistered convent out a ways on a side road near Surprise but in all my years at this station don’t think we have ever gotten a call from there.  They are in our county jurisdiction so we had best get out there… (laughs)

Ben: He laughed uncomfortably.

Isaiah: And get on with this investigation so we can stay on the right side of the Lord, son.  First of all, I’m sure whatever happened was an accident, or natural.  Growing up in Chicago, there was a church with either a seminary or a convent on every corner and one thing I learned was you can always trust the nuns, though most are tough as nails.  If it wasn’t an accident then we need to find out who else goes out there, and why.  Call Dr. Dunn and see if she can come along with the coroner van.

Foley: dialing phone, vehicles moving…

Ben: It took us an hour to travel across the desert to the remote convent tucked between two dry knolls dotted with saguaro cactus.  The chief spent most of the ride with his head back and eyes closed as if taking a nap.  The air was already beginning to heat up and I heard tower bells chime as we drove up.  The entire convent consisted of several cottages, four large dormitory type buildings and an Abby Church on about fifteen acres of sandy desert, all surrounded by ten foot tall fences with secure gates front and back.  As we drove near, the front gate opened as if by magic and we pulled past a wide green lawn surrounded by an abundance of flowering plants that gave it the appearance of an English garden.  The scene was out of place in this sweltering valley where water was at a premium. 

Foley (Gate creeks open…car comes to halt, doors open and close under dialogue)

We parked in the small dirt lot in front of the main building; and were followed closely by the coroner in her van who parked next to our squad car.  Mother Superior, was as crisp as new fallen snow in her blinding white habit when came out of the main building to meet us.  Isaiah took the lead while I recorded notes and scanned the surroundings for unusual circumstances.

Isaiah: Mam,

Mother Superior: (Interrupting) you may call me Mother Mary if you like…
Mother Superior visits Alaska

 

Isaiah: Mam…uh, (Uncomfortably mumbles) Mother Mary, I’m Isaiah Irons…chief detective and this is Ben Watts my assistant, the man you spoke to when reporting your…um…incident.  We’ve brought with us the coroner, Dr. Alice Dunn, to examine the um…Sister in question.  Now first off; have you discussed this with anyone else here at the convent since you phoned? 

Ben: I noticed the chief sounded unusually formal and stiff as he went through the litany of routine questions.

Mother Superior:  Why, No Sir, Ah, I mean detective, not even the novice sitting at Sister Josetta’s closed door.

Ben: She wrung her hands and spoke so softly I had to lean forward to hear the rest of her response.

Mother Superior: I’ve done as you directed and let none of the sisters, or any of the help, know of the, er incident, although due to my vows I was obligated to contact our Holy Mother home in San Salvador.

Isaiah: And you told them…what?

Mother Superior: Well, um, because of the time change, I could not reach them, so left a message that I would call them back with a matter of immediate importance.

Now… Please follow me. Shhhh. We’ll take the short cut through the Abby chapel where the Sisters are at morning joined prayer.

Foley: (Slight swish of clothing, footsteps door creeks open, chanting prayers in a high pitched melody reciting the rosary or some Gregorian chant. another door creeks open and closes then footsteps are heard echoing down a hall,-under dialogue)

Ben:  Her robes flowed around her and the blue band on the edge of the long cloth over her head was as stiff as a one hour corpse.  She folded her arms over the heavy cross that hung from a narrow ribbon around her neck and placed her hands under the long sleeves of the gown.  She glided in front of us like a sheet covered ghost without a rustle or movement from her heavy clothing.  It must have been over 110 degrees in the building which had no air conditioning.  There was very little help from the few fans pulling-in blasts of hot air from the outside.

Foley: Fan blowing in back ground until they enter the room of Sister Josetta

After rapidly passing through a maze or corridors we reached a young woman sitting on a stool in front of a closed door.  I noticed there was not one bead of sweat on Mother Superior’s creased face, while I had sweat rings to my ankles.  She placed a hand on the shoulder of a great lump of a girl and introduced her.

Mother Superior: Sister Gabriel here…is a Novice who came to our Mother House as an infant from our orphanage in Ecuador.  Her cubicle is just across from Sister Josetta’s.  I set her as guard, so to speak, and instructed her not let anyone in or (clears throat)…echm, out. You see we have no locks on any of the doors within our convent, and all are left open for anyone to enter as they choose.  The only locks are on the gates.  One at the front gate, the automatic electric one we recently had installed with a donation from a relative of one of our novitiates…and the service gate at the back where one must press a buzzer to have someone come out and open the lock.  As far as I know no one entered or left after about five last evening.  And I left all as I found it for you to examine. 

Ben: Even now I remember how intently I observed everything and wrote in my new notebook.  I was trying to appear full of efficiency with spare sharpened pencils on hand to impress my new boss.  My first note stated the novice had her head down as if in prayer.

Isaiah:  Ah, I see. Thank you,… so now…Sister Gabriel, young lady, I’m Chief Detective of Coconino County and need to ask you a few questions…I understand you came from Central America… you speak English?…intiendo Englase?

Sister Gabriel: Sir, although I was left on the doorstep of the orphanage and then passed on to the convent when an infant, I was sent here to the United States when only three, my English is fine…

Ben: Her voice was lilting, hypnotic, as if singing softly as she spoke.

 Isaiah: (interrupts) mmm… good…So you were-are, friends with Sister Josetta?

Foley: (stool scrapes)

Sister Gabriel: Sir, we are not what you would call friends.  Although we began our final training together, I was assigned to kitchen nutrition and chanting as my Divine Calling, while Sister Josetta went to the infirmary, and was given the Sacrifice of silence and recollection.  We never see one another except at meals, and she is usually on assignment during prayers, and anyway, as Sisters of the Good Sheppard we are to have no friendships, except with our Lord.

Mother Superior: Thank you for your little service here my dear… you may go to the kitchen and ask Sister Mary Grace to find you something to eat since you have missed morning meal. Please, stay there and don’t speak to anyone until I come to get you.”

Ben: I saw Sister Gabriel, head down with her face covered by her loose scarf go slowly down the hall… but before she turned the corner she lifted her head to give a questioning look at Mother Superior.  When the cloth fell away from her face I could then guess why she was at the convent.  She was horribly deformed with puffy strawberry marks covering it on one side from chin to forehead.  She had very small eyes so close together they appeared crossed. Her large crooked shoulders crowded into the grey novice habit which fell to her substantial ankles and she walked with a limp. Wisps of damp stringy hair escaped from her head covering.  However, her strange face and demeanor was quickly forgotten when I recalled her hypnotic voice, much like the melodic tinkling of a bell.  

Foley: scrape of stool, latch lifted, door opens

Isaiah: Are all the rooms alike?

Mother Superior: Yes, captain, we only need a small personal space as there is naught a need to store personal items.  We only have what we need, and no more.

Ben: The captain stood there blocking the doorway for a moment silently observing and when he finally entered with the others following I could finally see in the room.  The sparseness was what I expected.  Plain, with everything beige or some shade of tan, a bed, table, stick lamp, a chest, and a small high window which had no glass with crossed bars imbedded into the thick adobe walls. The room was so small it seemed like a closet and barely held the few pieces of furniture. After I maneuvered my way to the end of the bed around the wall of warm bodies, I could see there was no life within the girl before me.  She was prone; and had a white rose clutched tightly in her right hand and a bible in her left.  My first thought was of a photograph advertising a perfume in Life magazine; like a set stage for what I saw on the bed surprised me; the tiny and very shapely young lady dressed in novice attire had an absolutely enchanting face.  Her headscarf was on the bedside table so her long fair hair was loose and framed her face like a halo.  She looked like an angel. Yet underneath the skin was the unnatural waxy grey of death and her closed eyes were circled with dark lavender.  If I didn’t know better I would have thought her sleeping; she looked so much like a figure frozen in time.  My first thought was “What a shame.” Not because she was dead but because such a young and beautiful girl had entered the convent without experiencing life.  My second thought was about the queasy feeling in my stomach, and the thickness of the air. And then, I noticed something out of place; peeking out from under her skirt; a tiny scrap of pale pink lace.

Isaiah: Mother um…Mary, can you tell me about this young woman?  Was she having any problems, with other sisters or second thoughts about taking her final vows?  This feels like a suicide to me, and looks like one too;  I’m quite sure it was not a natural death considering her tender age and what I see, but we need to rule out both suicide and murder.

Mother Superior: OH! My no…I don’t see how that can be, it must have been something else…a fright, or from the cold we all have had, pneumonia perhaps, but I must admit, when I entered the room it felt wrong, like a light had been put out.

Ben:  Inspector Irons took a pen from his lapel pocket and carefully pried the flower from the dead girls’ stiff fingers placing the evidence in an envelope and passing it to Dr. Dunn. I took the camera from around my neck and began taking photos of the scene from every angle including the furnishings and walls.  After dusting for fingerprints, I opened the drawers of the chest and took photos of the meager contents, noting two of the underthings in the bottom drawer were edged with the same delicate pink lace I had seen under Sister Josetta’s skirt.  Since everything within the convent was without adornment I considered the garments unusual and wrote down these thoughts to convey to the Inspector when we drove back to the precinct.  Dr. Dunn began her work and pulled out a thermometer, soon after I saw her write the time of death as between two and three AM.  After concentrating on taking two rolls of film, I finally began to pay attention to the questioning when Mother Mary was halfway through her description of the deceased.

Foley: (Mother Superior is heard speaking under last few words of Ben, and then gets louder)

Mother Superior: …and her family was also from Central America.  Her mother died of malaria when she was young which is why she believes her calling is to the sick.  Many feel the call to a vocation in our order from that area although we have now gathered some to our nest all the way from Europe.  And, um… Well now, I must admit Sister Josetta has had a difficult time in transition to our life since she arrived three years ago, and I believe still clings to the memory of her father, who is a lace maker by placing small scraps of his work in places where she thinks it can’t be seen.    I know the bits of froth give her comfort. It is such a small transgression that I have turned my head, especially since she can only serve in the infirmary due to her disability…which keeps her from devotional service elsewhere. 

Ben: I wondered what that disability could possibly be as I looked once more on the still and lovely body of Sister Josetta.

Mother Superior:  I’ve assisted her to keep it a secret for her years with us as a postulate and then a novice, but it has now been revealed.  You see…

Ben: She leaned forward as if to tell a tremendous secret.

Mother Superior: She cannot carry a tune, not one wit!  Has no ear for music, so to speak and has been excused from choral prayer until now.  But…for final vows one must participate with the other novices in song so she has recently begun to join in…and now everyone knows of her ungodly curse.  You see…A good part of our worship has to do with harmonic prayers…singing.  We strive to have the most angelic of all voices so the Lord will listen to ours first, but Sister Josetta has been a trial and often ruins an hour of lovely prayer with some very sour notes.  Such a pity.  Even with lots of practice her voice is grinding, and as flat and sour as a miner’s pancake and I do believe she IS a bit deaf…or, oh dear…was…a bit deaf….

Ben:  Her voice trailed off and her eyes filled with tears.  I looked over at the still lifeless girl while Inspector Irons droned on with questions that buzzed in my head like a hive.  I began to look more closely at my cramped surroundings and started to feel claustrophobic. When my vision blurred I stepped into the hallway to gulp at the still heavy air but found no relief from the feeling of being closed in.  My head began to spin so I leaned against the wall and slid down to sit on the floor.  Then… I heard a voice…

Isaiah : Watts, what’s wrong, are you Okay?

Ben: My first murder case and there I sat, on the floor like a swooning little girl.  I would never live it down.  I told him I was fine…as I watched the body roll past me on its way to the Coroners van, and said I thought it was the heat and stammered the excuse that I didn’t have time for breakfast.  So…as a result…got a full hour of lecture on the way back to the station about always, without fail, having something in my stomach before going out on a potential death call. 

Isaiah:  Even if it’s not a murder call, if it’s some bloody accident you could lose your lunch or pass out and look like a fool to staff, and the public you need to question.  No low blood sugar is permitted! And if you must faint…fall backwards so you don’t contaminate the crime scene.

Ben: Never NEVER do that again was his mantra, repeated several times.  And finally he said;

Isaiah: Son, (yelling) I will not speak of this, do you hear?  And thank goodness I know Alice is closed mouthed. You could lose all credibility if you pull that kind of a stunt in front of someone less considerate than I…young man!

Ben: He blustered along like an old pirate.  I kept silent all the way back to the station and vowed not to disappoint him again because if this was him being considerate, I’d hate to see him angry…my eardrums would most likely be blown out…

(this is logical time for station break…if needed)

Foley: car parking break set, doors open and close, footsteps and then office sounds.

Isaiah:  I’ll go over these staff and vendor folders, and you can review the backgrounds of the others including the elderly nuns and the priests living in the nursing home building.  We’ll meet with Dr. Dunn at five for preliminary reports so make sure you have your review completed by then.

Ben: I watched him go into his office with a small stack of papers, while I was loaded down with a huge box bulging with folders.  Sitting at my desk surrounded by the hum of police activity I set to work.

Foley: sound of office activity rises louder…then softens

Ben: Four hours later I headed toward the conference room with my cursory report and saw Dr. Dunn sitting at the table tapping her finger on a single sheet of paper. This time I made sure my belly had one of the stale ham and cheese sandwiches from the hallway vending machine and I carried with me a large bottle of my life liquid…Coca-Cola.

Isaiah:  I’ve called the convent and told the Mother Superior we would be there by 9 tonight and ‘ave given her a list of person’s I need to interview.  Hmmm, my investigation has resulted have a few twisted facts that could lead somewhere, But let’s hear yours first, Dr. Dunn, then you Ben.

Dr. Dunn:  After a complete autopsy I found this was basically a young healthy virginal female.  There was evidence of some unusual joint deterioration in her long bone extremities. My final results were inconclusive but I have a suspicion she was somehow poisoned.  Large amounts of oleander were found in her urine and blood and a small amount in the contents of her stomach.  I also found strychnine in her blood.  The rest of her body was unremarkable except for what appeared to be several bee stings on her legs, and I think cat scratches on her legs and hands then there were the puncture wounds on her right hand, from the thorns of the rose she held. I cannot tell you if the cause of death was accidental or intentional; suicide or murder. 

I called the head gardener at the convent who resides in one of the dormitory cottages.  He told me the back hedge of the convent is oleander. He’s familiar with the poisonous properties of the plant, as he was originally from the Philippines where the plants are native.  I also inquired about any bees on the premises.  Evidently there are three retired priests in the ambulatory care area of the small infirmary and all three have become hobby bee keepers.  They have several hives behind the back fences and gave the kitchen staff their first harvest of honey about a month ago.  Honey made from the nectar of the oleander flowers can cause some severe symptoms not from the pollen or the blossoms, but from the leaf oil on the pads of the bees which can contaminate the honey.  I have only heard of death from eating the leaves, or steeping them into a tea.  There is an urban legend of a family that died because they roasted their hotdogs on branches from an oleander, but that has been proven a myth.  Ben called me to investigate an unusual stickiness of the rose which I found to have been immersed in strychnine, whose origin is a tree.  There are three strychnine trees in the back orchard surrounded by orange and apple trees.  I need to find out more about the combination of those elements as neither one had enough in her body fluids to cause death, but combined… I’m just not sure. 
 

Before we left the convent this morning I spoke with Sister Gabriel again and she told me Sister Josetta thought she had some disorder of the bone and that she chose not to complain of the pain and used silent prayer as solace.  Also of note is the appearance of the room, the bed and the body, none look as if there was any thrashing or restlessness which occurred before death.  Her body wasn’t contorted, her clothing was smooth, not twisted or undone, and her face was serene as if she had fallen asleep.  Most poisons cause cramping and pain.  And, thank you Ben for all the pictures you processed and sent to me as they confirmed my memory of how the body was positioned, and showed no evidence of distress.  Then also there was the unusual bluish, pale tone under her skin, but then…I’m more used to seeing tan bodies here in the Valley of the Sun.

Isaiah:  Thanks Alice, you’ve done your usual through job and your thoughts go along with my theory of a poison, not a natural death.  I agree the serene position of the body doesn’t fit with any kind of distress and I’m not sure about a suicide as that would put her in a bad position with her sacred vows… sooo anything else?  No, Okay….Ben? shoot…

Ben: The first thing I noticed at the scene out of place was… um… her undergarments. (I don’t know why, but the fact that I noticed the lace embarrassed me and I continued on with a red face) I explained the lace seemed out of place, when everything else was so plain and disciplined, but then realized it was an innocent reminder of her home after the Mother Superior’s description of her childhood. I agree the way the body was positioned seemed like a set-up, flowers in hand, it seemed like she was sleeping, or ready for a funeral viewing. It simply felt wrong. 

Anyway, did you know every sister takes on the name of Mary in this convent, and adds another of their choosing; their old name is left behind and discarded.  For some reason that fact fascinated me and by looking at their entrance records I made a list of the original names of each sister to see if that would give us a clue.  One thing I discovered was that Mother Superior, and the sister guarding the door; Sister Gabriel Mary, and Sister Josetta had the same surname as one of the gardeners, but then Garcia is such a common name, it most likely means nothing.  But then again…there were no other duplicates.  I also found out Sister Josetta has an older brother who immigrated here and became a citizen of the US six years before she was sent here.  He recently returned from Viet Nam and was hired here at the convent as a general handy man and custodian.  We should have him on the list to question as he lives with some of the other workers on the premises.

As far as the priests go, I could never find out much about them, one had recently arrived from South America.  They live in the long term conservatory; I guess that’s where some of the frail retired priests live.

After I examined the flower sample, I could easily identify it as a rose, from the smell alone, but there was a particular sweetness, and the stem and thorns were sticky.  So I sent it on to Dr. Dunn, and you heard about it being coated or dipped in a strong solution of strychnine.  

Most of the work is done by the nuns, laundry, cooking and such, even a lot of the gardening.  One of the custodians who doubles as a gardener came from the same orphanage in San Salvador as Sister Gabriel and lives at the conservatory also. The total number of persons at the facility is 48.  7 retired priests, 34 nuns including 5 novices, and 7 other staff.  I saw on the record there are 3-4 others who come in from time to time for repairs who live in a nearby town of Surprise Arizona.  They keep a record at the front gate and the back one of persons who enter so we know during the evening before the death the only ones at the facility were the 48 full time residents. I agree with Dr. Dunn about a poison which still leaves the question, Murder or Suicide.

Irons: Well good work, Murder or Suicide.  Suicide is unfortunate, sad and a waste, but no danger to the rest of the living out there, but if its murder we have to find out quickly, because one murder could lead to more.  And the convent is so isolated; all those ladies are basically trapped out there, and needless to say unprepared to defend themselves.  I checked the small shed toward the back gate and the only means of transportation for the sisters is an old station wagon.  Good work everyone.

Ben:  At that point a 911 dispatcher ran in to say there had just been a call and a hang up from the convent, and when they tried to return the call, all the lines were dead.  The three of us snatched up our papers, ran out to the squad car, and took off with lights flashing.

Foley: Doors slam…Police car sirens start up and fade to, music and

Commercial break