In the year 2060, cutting-edge investigative tools can help catch a killer. But there are some questions even the most advanced technologies cannot answer. . . . At the most solemn moment of a Catholic funeral Mass, the priest brings the chalice to his lips. Seconds later, he is dead on the altar. For the mourners packed into the pews, Father Miguel Flores's sudden demise is an unimaginable shock. When Detective Lieutenant Eve Dallas confirms that the consecrated wine contained enough potassium cyanide to kill a rhino, she's prepared to plunge in and find out why, despite her discomfort with her surroundings. It's not the bodegas and pawnshops of East Harlem that bother her; it's all that holiness flying around St. Cristobal's that makes her uneasy. The autopsy reveals scars from knife wounds, a removed tattoo, and evidence of plastic surgery, suggesting "Father Flores" may not have been the man his parishioners thought. Now, as Eve pieces together clues that suggest identity theft, gang connections, and a deeply personal act of revenge, she hopes to track down whoever committed this unholy act. Until a second murder - in front of an even larger crowd of worshippers - knocks the whole investigation sideways. The way Eve sees it, vengeance may be the Lord's business, but if there's going to be any earthly justice in this case, it's up to her.
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Nora Roberts is the number-one New York Times-bestselling author of more than 150 novels, including High Noon, Angels Fall, Blue Smoke, and Northern Lights. She is also the author of the bestselling futuristic suspense series written under the pen name J. D. Robb. There are more than 280 million copies of her books in print.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Table of Contents
TITLES BY J. D. ROBB
Naked in Death
Glory in Death
Immortal in Death
Rapture in Death
Ceremony in Death
Vengeance in Death
Holiday in Death
Midnight in Death
Conspiracy in Death
Loyalty in Death
Witness in Death
Judgment in Death
Betrayal in Death
Interlude in Death
Seduction in Death
Reunion in Death
Purity in Death
Portrait in Death
Imitation in Death
Divided in Death
Visions in Death
Survivor in Death
Origin in Death
Memory in Death
Born in Death
Innocent in Death
Creation in Death
Strangers in Death
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Robb, J. D., date.
Salvation in death / J. D. Robb.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
AT THE MASS OF THE DEAD, THE PRIEST PLACED the wafer of unleavened bread and the cheap red wine on the linen corporal draping the altar. Both paten and chalice were silver. They had been gifts from the man inside the flower-blanketed coffin resting at the foot of the two worn steps that separated priest from congregation.
The dead had lived a hundred and sixteen years. Every day of those years he’d lived as a faithful Catholic. His wife had predeceased him by a mere ten months, and every day of those ten months he’d grieved for her.
Now his children, grandchildren, great- and great-great-grandchildren filled the pews of the old church in Spanish Harlem. Many lived in the parish, and many more returned to it to mourn, and to pay their respects. Both his surviving brothers attended the rite, as did cousins, nieces, nephews, friends, and neighbors, so the living packed those pews, the aisles, the vestibule to honor the dead with the ancient rite.
Hector Ortiz had been a good man, who’d led a good life. He’d died peacefully in his bed, surrounded by photographs of his family and the many images of Jesus, Mary, and his favorite saint, Lawrence. St. Lawrence had been grilled to death for his faith and in the way of irony became the patron saint of restaurateurs.
Hector Ortiz would be missed; he would be mourned. But the long, good life and easy death lent a flavor of peace and acceptance to the Requiem Mass—and those who wept shed the tears more for themselves than for the departed. Their faith assured them, the priest thought, of Hector Ortiz’s salvation. And as the priest performed the ritual, so familiar, he scanned the faces of the mourners. They looked to him to lead them in this final tribute.
Flowers and incense and the smoking wax of candles mixed and merged their scents in the air. A mystical fragrance. The smell of power and presence.
The priest solemnly bowed his head over the symbols of flesh and blood before washing his hands.
He’d known Hector, and in fact had heard his confession—his last, as it came to be—only a week before. So, Father Flores mused as the congregation rose, the penance had been the last Hector had been given.
Flores spoke to the congregation, and they to him, the familiar words of the Eucharistic Prayer, and through to the Sanctus.
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might.”
The words and those following were sung, as Hector had loved the music of the Mass. Those mixed voices rose up, tangling in the magically scented air. The congregation knelt—a baby’s fretful wail, a dry cough, rustles, whispers—for the Consecration.
The priest waited for them to quiet, for the silence. For the moment.
Flores implored the power of the Holy Spirit to take the gifts of wafer and wine and transform them into the body and blood of Christ. And moved, according to the rite, as representative of the Son of God.
And while the crucified Christ looked down from behind the altar, Flores knew he himself held the power now. Held that presence.
“Take this, all of you, and eat it. For this is my body,” Flores said, holding up the host, “which will be given up for you.”
The bells rang; heads bowed.
“Take this and drink it. This is the cup of my blood.” He raised the chalice. “The blood of a new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for others for the forgiveness of sin. Do this in memory of me.”
“Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”
They prayed, and the priest wished them peace. They wished peace to each other. And again, raising voices, they sang—Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us—while the priest broke the host, placed a piece of it in the chalice. The ministers moved forward, stopping short of the altar as the priest lifted the chalice to his lips.
He was dead the moment he drank the blood.
St. Cristóbal’s Church in Spanish Harlem knelt quietly between a bodega and a pawnshop. It boasted a small gray steeple and was innocent of the graffiti that tagged its near-neighbors. Inside, it smelled of candles, flowers, and furniture polish. Like a nice, suburban home might smell.
At least it struck Lieutenant Eve Dallas that way as she strode down the aisle formed by rows of pews. In the front, a man in black shirt, black pants, and white collar sat with his head bowed and his hands folded.
She wasn’t sure if he was praying or just waiting, but he wasn’t her priority. She skirted around the glossy casket all but buried in red and white carnations. The dead guy inside wasn’t her priority either.
She engaged her lapel recorder, but when she started to climb the two short steps to the platform that held the altar—and her priority—her partner plucked at Eve’s arm.
“Um, I think we’re supposed to, like, genuflect.”
“I never genuflect in public.”
“No, seriously.” Peabody’s dark eyes scanned the altar, the statues. “It’s like holy ground up there or something.”
“Funny, it looks like a dead guy up there to me.”
Eve walked up. Behind her, Peabody gave a one-legged bounce before following.
“Victim has been identified as Miguel Flores, age thirty-five, Catholic priest,” Eve began. “The body’s been moved.” She flicked a glance up to one of the uniforms securing the scene.
“Yes, sir. The victim collapsed during Mass, and there was an attempt to revive him while the nine-one-ones were placed. A couple of cops were on scene attending the funeral. That guy’s funeral,” he added with a chin point at the casket. “They moved people back, secured. They’re waiting to talk to you.”
Since she’d sealed her hands and feet before coming in, Eve crouched. “Get prints, TOD, and so on, for the record, Peabody. And for the record, the victim’s cheeks are bright pink. Facial injuries, left temple and cheekbone, most likely incurred when he fell.”
She glanced up, noted the silver chalice on the stained white linen. She rose, walked to the altar, sniffed at the cup. “He drink from this? What was he doing when he collapsed?”
“Taking Communion,” the man in the front row answered before the uniform could speak.
Eve stepped to the other side of the altar. “Do you work here?”
“Yes. This is my church.”
“I’m the pastor.” He rose, a compact and muscular man with sad, dark eyes. “Father López. Miguel was officiating the funeral mass, and was taking Communion. He drank, and he seemed, almost immediately, to seize. His body shook, and he gasped for air. And he collapsed.” López spoke with the faintest of accents, an exotic sheen over rough wood. “There were doctors and other medicals here, and they tried to revive him, but it was too late. One said, one thought, it was poison. But I don’t believe that could be.”
López merely lifted his hands. “Who would poison a priest in such a way, and at such a time?”
“Where did the wine come from? In the cup?”
“We keep Communion wine locked in the tabernacle, in the anteroom.”
“Who has access?”
“I do. Miguel, Martin—that is, Father Freeman—the Eucharistic ministers serving the Mass.”
A lot of hands, Eve thought. Why bother with a lock? “Where are they?”
“Father Freeman is visiting family in Chicago, and expected back tomorrow. We have—had—three ministers today due to the large attendance at the Requiem Mass.”
“I’ll need their names.”
“Surely you can’t believe—”
He actually paled when Eve lifted the silver disk holding the wafer. “Please. Please. It’s been consecrated.”
“I’m sorry, now it’s evidence. There’s a piece missing. Did he eat it?”
“A small piece is broken off, put in the wine for the rite of fraction and commingling. He would have consumed it with the wine.”
“Who put the wine in the cup and the . . .” What the hell did she call it? Cookie? Cracker?
“Host,” López supplied. “He did. But I poured the wine into the receptacle and placed the host for Miguel before the Consecration. I did it personally as a sign of respect for Mr. Ortiz. Miguel officiated, at the family’s request.”
Eve cocked her head. “They didn’t want the head guy? Didn’t you say you were the head guy?”
“I’m pastor, yes. But I’m new. I’ve only had this parish for eight months, since Monsignor Cruz retired. Miguel’s been here for more than five years, and married two of Mr. Ortiz’s great-grandchildren, officiated at the Requiem for Mrs. Ortiz about a year ago. Baptized—”
“Just one minute, please.”
Eve turned back to Peabody.
“Sorry to interrupt, Father. ID match,” Peabody told Eve. “TOD jibes. Drink, seize, collapse, die, red cheeks. Cyanide?”
“Educated guess. We’ll let Morris confirm. Bag the cup, the cookie. Pick one of the cop witnesses and get a statement. I’ll take the other after I have López show me the source of the wine and the other thing.”
“Should we release the other dead guy?”
Eve frowned at the casket. “He’s waited this long. He can wait a little longer.” She turned back to López. “I need to see where you keep the . . .” Refreshments? “The wine and the hosts.”
With a nod, López gestured. He walked up, turned away from the altar to lead Eve through a doorway. Inside cabinets lined one wall, and on a table stood a tall box, deeply carved with a cross. López took keys from the pocket of his pants and unlocked the door of the box.
“This is the tabernacle,” he explained. “It holds unconsecrated hosts and wine. We keep a larger supply in the first cabinet there, also locked.”
The wood gleamed with polish, she noted, and would hold prints. The lock was a simple key into a slot. “This decanter here is where you took the wine for the cup?”
“Yes. I poured it from here to the vessel, and took the host. I brought them to Miguel at the beginning of the Eucharistic Liturgy.”
Purplish liquid filled the clear decanter to about the halfway point. “Did the substances leave your hands at any time before that, or were they unattended?”
“No. I prepared them, kept them with me at all times. To do otherwise would be disrespectful.”
“I have to take this into evidence.”
“I understand. But the tabernacle can’t leave the church. Please, if you need to examine it, can it be done here? I’m sorry,” he added, “I never asked your name.”
“You’re not Catholic.”
“What gave you the first clue?”
He smiled a little, but the misery never left his eyes. “I understand you’re unfamiliar with the traditions and rites of the church, and some may seem strange to you. You believe someone tampered with the wine or the host.”
Eve kept both her face and her voice neutral. “I don’t believe anything yet.”
“If this is so, then someone used the blood and body of Christ to kill. And I delivered them to Miguel. I put them in his hands.” Beneath the misery in his eyes, Eve saw the banked embers of anger. “God will judge them, Lieutenant. But I believe in earthly laws as well as God’s laws. I’ll do whatever I can to help you in your work.”
“What kind of priest was Flores?”
“A good one. Compassionate, dedicated, ah, energetic, I’d say. He enjoyed working with young people, and was particularly good at it.”
“Any trouble recently? Depression, stress?”
“No. No. I would have known, I would have seen it. We live together, the three of us, in the rectory behind the church.” He gestured vaguely...
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