February 1985âSt. Cloud, Minnesota
“Zina, heel!” Bonnie Novak jerked back on the leash with all her strength and dug her heels into the deep snow flanking Twelfth Avenue. Her thirty-eight-pound Siberian husky strained on the leash, eyeing the park across the street eagerly, but Bonnie managed to hold her in check until a yellow school bus rumbled past. Obedience training had been a waste of money. Walking Zina was still a test of brute strength.
The street was clear now, and Bonnie let the dog pull her across the slippery asphalt and into the snow-covered park. The freezing rain last night had coated the snow with a hard crust of ice, and Bonnie's boots crunched as she hurried to keep up with Zina. She caught a quick glimpse of the American National Bank sign before Zina pulled her behind a snowbank. It was seven forty-five and minus nine degrees in downtown St. Cloud. Bonnie gave an automatic shiver until she realized that the temperature was in Celsius. It was really fifteen above, and that was a balmy day for February in Minnesota.
Zina stopped to sniff at the base of a tree, and Bonnie stood silently, enjoying the peaceful morning. Flanked by tall pine trees, the park was effectively cut off from the noisy traffic on Division Street. It was an island of serenity in the center of the bustling city. The sky above was still gray, but the sun struggled to peek through the low clouds. This might turn out to be a nice day after all.
“Come on, Zina. Let's go.” Bonnie jerked hard on the leash and began to walk through the crusty snow bordering the small lake. In the summer Lake George was filled with rented paddleboats, but now it was the municipal skating rink. As Zina sniffed at the frozen bushes Bonnie followed along slowly, examining the ice sculptures which were already beginning to line the shore. On Monday WinterGame would start, and this peaceful little park would be filled with people. The fund-raiser would run for a week with figure skating competitions, ice hockey play-offs, snowman building contests, and the ice sculpture exhibition.
“Zina! No!” Bonnie attempted to pull the husky back, but Zina barked sharply and strained toward one of the ice sculptures. It was the most hideous thing Bonnie had ever seen, a statue of a man dying in agony, his skull crushed in. The artist had added plenty of realistic touches. There was even red poster paint for the blood that covered the man's face. Bonnie certainly hoped that this sculpture didn't win the contest.
The Siberian husky began to whine as Bonnie held her tightly by the choke chain. The sun peeked through the clouds for a moment, and Bonnie gave a sigh of relief as she realized that this statue couldn't possibly win the contest. There was something inside, covered by a coating of ice. The rules clearly stated that all entries had to be carved freehand.
Just as Bonnie was ready to turn and start toward home, the clouds rolled away and the winter sun hit the statue fully, highlighting it in grisly detail. Bonnie's mouth opened in a scream, and she swayed on her feet. This was no ice sculpture. It was real. And there was a dead man inside.
Sister Kate pulled aside the kitchen curtains and tapped on the glass in front of the bars to get George Marek's attention. The sleet storm last night had turned the sloping walkway outside into a slippery slide of glare ice, and George was sprinkling it with Ice-Melt, just in case Archbishop Ciminski decided to visit.
George looked up and grinned as Sister Kate pointed to her watch and scratched the number thirty backward on the frost that coated the inside of the window. He nodded and lifted his red mitten in a salute. Then he hefted the heavy bag of salt and deicers and stomped off through the snow toward the garage. Sister Kate knew he'd be at the door in exactly thirty minutes for his lunch. George was a hard worker and utterly trustworthy. He'd been the combination handyman and day security guard for the past ten years at Holy Rest. Sister Kate just wished she had the same confidence in the night man. Hank Jenkins was young, in his early thirties, and she suspected that he sometimes skipped the hourly rounds he was required to make every night, especially in cold weather like this.
“Peaches or pears today?” Sister Cecelia stood at the open pantry door. She was wearing her white uniform again, with her cap from St. Mary's School of Nursing. Even though Sister Kate had encouraged her to wear street clothes, Sister Cecelia said she felt more comfortable in her uniform.
“Let's serve peaches, dear. They're Bishop Donahue's favorites. And just half a scoop of cottage cheese on Sister Augusta's plate.”
Sister Cecelia nodded. “We'll give Gustie an extra lettuce leaf. That way she might not notice her salad's smaller. And I'll start the sandwiches now, so you can round them all up in the dayroom.”
“Fine, Cissy.” Sister Kate turned away to hide her amused smile. Sister Cecelia took charge at every opportunity. It was difficult for her, after fifteen years as the resident nurse at Holy Rest, to accept that she was now a patient.
When she first came to Holy Rest, Sister Kate decided to call Cissy by her full name, thinking it might help restore her sense of self-esteem. But Sister Cecelia Simon was just too much of a mouthful. Everyone but Bishop Donahue called her Cissy, and Sister Kate caved in after the first few days.
The noon sun streamed through the stained-glass window in the hallway as Sister Kate climbed the stairs to the bedroom on the second floor. There were ten bedrooms in all but only seven were occupied now. One of the extra rooms had been turned into an office for Sister Cecelia. It was at the rear of the house and contained her desk and her books on nursing. Naturally Cissy had felt badly about relinquishing the resident nurse's quarters downstairs. Giving her one of the extra bedrooms for an office had been Sister Kate's idea. It was always a tragedy when a psychiatric nurse identified too closely with her patients and ended up sharing their illness. Sister Kate knew it happened frequently in mental hospitals. When she'd graduated from nursing school and attended the University of Minnesota to get her degree in psychology, it was mentioned frequently as a hazard of the profession. Even if Sister Cecelia recovered enough to resume normal duties, she would undoubtedly be transferred to a less rigorous nursing environment.
The room directly across from Cissy's office housed the new Apple computer the archbishop had given them. Sister Kate had tried to get her patients interested in word processing, but Major Pietre had appropriated the computer when he discovered the games package. Every night the major spent hours playing Infantry Attack.
The major's bedroom was next to the computer room. Sister Kate knocked softly on the closed door before she opened it. His clothes were neatly laid out on the small cot, a black dickey with a clerical collar and army fatigues. A faded photograph of Company B, 203rd Infantry Battalion, was taped to the mirror above the dresser, and Sister Kate's eyes were drawn to the major, grinning in the center of the front row. A picture postcard of Seoul was directly beneath it, and a large map of eastern Asia was tacked to the bulletin board over the desk, with colored pins marking strategic points. Father Pietre had been a chaplain in the Korean War.
The shower was running in the connecting bath, and Sister Kate could hear the major singing at the top of his lungs. She thought it sounded more like a drinking song than a hymn, but it was hard to tell over the sound of the rushing water.
“Lunch in ten minutes, Major,” Sister Kate called out loudly.
The pipes gave a bleat as Major Pietre turned off the water and Sister Kate made a timely exit. The major wasn't a bit embarrassed about stepping out of the bathroom entirely naked and carrying out a conversation with her while he dressed. She guessed that was understandable. Most of the time he thought she was one of the troops. In the course of her nursing career Sister Kate had seen every part of the male anatomy, but there was something very disconcerting about a naked, attractive, physically healthy priest.
Monsignor Wickes's door was open. He had gone down to the dayroom early. Sister Kate noticed that the model of a Ferrari she'd given him for Christmas was almost finished. The room smelled of paint, and she opened the window a crack. Monsignor Wickes loved sports cars, expensive liquor, and teenage girls. The church had sent him to three retreats especially designed to dry out members of the clergy with alcoholic problems, but nothing had worked. After a final incident involving a stolen Jaguar and a fifteen-year-old cheerleader, the archdiocese had admitted defeat and sent Monsignor Wickes to Holy Rest.
The third empty bedroom was across the hall. It was furnished with a matching bed and dresser and a small student desk. Sister Augusta's 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle was laid out on a card table in the middle of the room. The cover, showing the Vatican, in full color, was propped up next to the puzzle. Sister Kate took time to find a piece of blue sky and slip it into place. They all had taken turns looking for border pieces last night, even though Bishop Donahue claimed it was a waste of valuable time.
“Sister Kate? Could you help me, please?” Sister Augusta's room was directly across from the monsignor's. She was standing in front of the mirror, struggling to close the zipper on her black wool skirt.
“I don't think it's going to fit, Gustie.” Sister Kate tried to pull up the zipper, but there was a two-inch gap that wouldn't close. “Why don't you wear the gray one? That has a stretch waist-band.”
Sister Augusta gave an exasperated sigh. “I thought for sure I'd be able to get into this one. I've been on that awful diet for a week, and it's not working.”
“Oh, yes, it is.” Sister Kate found the gray skirt and handed it to her. “It just takes time, that's all. I'm positive you've lost weight this week.”
“Do you really think so?” Sister Augusta began to smile. “Then I must have lost it from somewhere that doesn't show. Maybe my feet. My shoes feel a little looser.”
Sister Kate laughed and moved down the hall to Father Murphy's room. He had closed his door again, even though she'd asked him to leave it open when he was downstairs. The white bedspread was slightly rumpled, and she smoothed it carefully. Nothing there. That was a good sign. And no hidden cache of items under the bed. Perhaps Father Murphy was finally responding to his therapy.
Sister Cecelia's room was next to Gustie's. The bed was neatly made with hospital corners, and the room was devoid of any personality. A picture of Pope John Paul II hung over the bed. He was wearing the gold chasuble and papal miter for high mass. The only other decoration was Cissy's nursing diploma, framed in silver, standing on her night table.
Poor Cissy. Sister Kate sighed as she remembered the incident that had led to Sister Cecelia's demotion. She had used the archdiocese account to charge six one-way tickets to Rome. Naturally Archbishop Ciminski had noticed the $5,000 bill. Cissy had told him she was taking her patients to visit the pope. She was sure he could help cure them. Sister Kate had been called in immediately, to take over Cissy's duties.
There were only two rooms left, at the front of the house. These were the choice bedrooms, overlooking East Lake Boulevard and Lake George. One belonged to Mother Superior Rachael Rebecca and the other to Bishop Donahue.
Sister Kate stepped into Mother Superior's room and smiled. This room was her favorite. Mother Superior's former students had sent artwork and drawings to post on her walls. It made the room bright and cheerful, almost like a grammar school classroom decorated for a party. It was difficult to believe that Mother Superior had been sent to Holy Rest more than twenty years ago, for her overzealous punishment of an eight-year-old boy.
A pair of blunt-tipped scissors rested on the book of Pope John Paul II paper dolls Sister Kate had found at a bookstore last Tuesday. Mother Superior had cut out the Father Wojtyla doll, with the “house” cassock he had worn when he was named auxiliary bishop of Krakow. Sister Kate picked up the scissors and cut out the ski costume from Plate 6. She folded the little tabs and slipped it over the doll's shoulders. It was perfect skiing weather today, and Mother Superior was bound to laugh when she saw the pope dressed in orange mittens and a matching pull-on cap.
There was only one room left to check. Reluctantly Sister Kate crossed the hallway and entered Bishop Donahue's room. There was a single bed against the wall and a small desk with a straight-backed wooden chair. It looked more like a monk's cell than a bishop's domain.
Sister Kate remembered her visit to the bishopric in Boston when she was a small child. She had been filled with awe at the beautiful artwork and priceless antique furnishings. Her father had explained that a bishop's residence was designed to reflect the majesty and wealth of the church. Sister Kate wondered if Bishop Donahue ever missed all that splendor and opulence.
Bishop Donahue had arranged for the storage of his personal possessions when he came to Holy Rest. He had arrived with one suitcase of clothes, an antique chess set, and three books. Sister Kate walked to the desk and picked up the worn volumes stacked on top. The first book had a title in Hebrew. Passages were underlined in red, but Sister Kate had no idea what they said. The second leather-bound volume was the ancient
. It bristled with bookmarks, and Bishop Donahue had written notations in the margins in Latin. Even the third book,
“The Hedonistic Fallacy” and Other Papers by Cardinal Olivianni
, looked ponderous and forbidding. Sister Kate made a mental note to ask Archbishop Ciminski about these books the next time he came to visit. Perhaps the bishop's taste in books was a clue to his personality.
Bishop Donahue's chess set sat in the exact center of his desk. The pieces were hand-carved in intricate patterns. They had the rich patina that only the finest wood and centuries of careful handling could create. Sister Kate knew very little about chess but she recognized the value of this set. Cardinal Rossini had given it to the bishop when he had served as the cardinal's amanuensis at the Vatican. Archbishop Ciminski said it was rumored to have once belonged to St. Thomas Aquinas, and that made it a second-class relic.
Sister Kate knew she shouldn't, but she touched a pawn with the very tip of her finger. She expected to feel some sort of communion with the long-dead saint, but nothing happened. The pawn felt like ordinary wood.
She had probably committed a venial sin. Sister Kate sighed and crossed herself. Bishop Donahue allowed no one to touch his chess set. He would be furious if he knew that she'd violated his wishes.
Suddenly Sister Kate felt uneasy, and she shivered slightly. Thinking about Bishop Donahue always affected her this way. His eyes were a flat slate-gray. When he was agitated, they glittered in a way that reminded her of a deadly reptile, preparing to strike. Of course, she had tried to be friendly and invite his confidence, but she had gotten nowhere. In truth, Sister Kate wasn't sure that she wanted to know the secret that was hidden in the depths of Bishop Donahue's mind. She shared warmth and caring with her six other patients, but Bishop Donahue remained an enigma. It might be of value to know what the bishop had done to end up at Holy Rest, but that information had been removed from his file by the Vatican censor, and it was best not to question the wisdom of the church.
Sister Kate rubbed her hands together briskly and headed for the stairway. It was a relief to leave the bishop's room, and she was eager to join her patients. By now everyone would be in the dayroom, and they could watch the news while they ate their lunch.
Bishop Donahue smiled along with the other inmates as Elmer Fudd chased Bugs Bunny across the giant television screen. Sister Kate was watching him, and he was careful to hide his anxiety. The new television had been installed last week. It was intended to augment their therapy. Before that, Holy Rest had been completely cut off from the outside world, sheltered in a safe, calm institutional environment.
It was nearly time. The bishop folded his hands and pretended to enjoy the broadcast. In 1957 he had written a treatise denouncing television. Now he was forced to sit here and watch it. Since newspapers and visitors were still banned from Holy Rest, the television was Bishop Donahue's only source of outside information.
The Warner Brothers logo flashed on the screen in brilliant red, yellow, and blue. The program was over. At the station break Sister Kate hurried to the kitchen and came back pushing the cart with their lunch. Bishop Donahue scowled as she passed him a grilled cheese sandwich. He had explained to Sister Kate that the world, as God had created it, was natural and good. Ingesting a product labeled “cheese food” was an affront to the Lord.
The news was just starting when Sister Cecelia came in and took the vacant chair next to Bishop Donahue's. She had been permitted to help today in the kitchen. Sister Cecelia turned to him once, brown eyes alert behind her glasses. Then she focused all her attention on the screen, assuming the serene smile that she had perfected during the past week. Only Bishop Donahue knew it was a pretense. At his orders, Sister Cecelia had stopped taking her daily tranquilizers.