The gray edge of dusk chased the sunlight across the grassy expanse of the Locust Street Cemetery, a burning streak of light between. Silence, windless, settled.
Frank Nagler knelt to adjust the flower vase at his wife’s grave, his shoulders slumping in the renewed sorrow. He reached to brush imaginary dust from the top of her red granite marker, his hand seemingly powerless to move. Finally, he stood and touched the front of Del Williams’ nearby marker. Peace, he thought, peace for both of you. He closed his eyes and felt again that last ambulance trip as the cancer claimed Martha, the pain that had edged her fine face finally gone. And Del, gunned down.
“All of this, here.”
The flicker of an occasional eternal flame candle caught his eye, the tiniest lights in growing darkness. Are they enough?
He bowed his head and tried to still the turmoil.
When his left ankle cramped from standing, he turned to climb the hill back to the road. Parked behind his own car was a black SUV.
“Jerome,” Nagler said to the smiling driver who held open the rear door.
“Frank.” Jerome raised his eyebrows and grinned.
In the car, Sister Katherine adjusted the nose piece to her oxygen unit.
“Come sit, Frank. It’s been too long.”
It had been weeks since the announcement of her illness. She seemed smaller than usual, shrunken into withered, blue-veined skin. Light from the open window infused her thinning hair with a translucent glow. Nagler felt his heart clutch at her appearance. “Sister, I…”
“No, Francis, not yet. Not now.” She reached for his hand. “I have arranged with Father Alonzo to hold a simple ceremony,” she said, her voice thin. “I do not want the church leaders to stand before a congregation and praise my work when they schemed so hard to end or discredit it.” She turned her head to gaze out the window and then looked back with a smile. “I would not want them to blaspheme.”
“The work you did mattered to so many. I, well Martha and I…”
“I have watched you grow from a scrawny, poor worker’s ghetto child into a man, a leader. I saw you and Martha face those challenges with love and bravery. That was my life. And now this is my life.”
She reached to her side and handled Nagler a manila envelope.
“I understand you have crossed paths with Mahala Dixon. She is not what she seems, which you will see as you read this.”
“How do you…?”
He had seen that smile before. “I might have chosen a way outside the main flow of life, but I not totally apart. Besides, an old nun sitting at a table during a festival will not turn down the offer of a cup of tea and conversation.” She coughed out a soft laugh. “It’s something, I believe, about the garb. Anyway I met Mahala and her mother Janelle during the time Carlton Dixon, Mahala’s father, was involved in that case of which you have become familiar.”
“She seems like an angry kid.”
Sister Katherine nodded to the envelope. “It is more than anger. Read this.” After a silence, she said. “This is not a place of just peace. And, no, I don’t come here to examine which plot will be mine. It is already chosen, next to my sister. This is where we face the conflicts and trials, ask the hard questions of our lives. All these souls writhing, questions never answered. No, I don’t come here to sample the supposed peace of life, but to confront again its inequities, its pains and injustices. My sister was murdered for greed and depravity. Del, much the same. I come here to battle for the lives who were tarnished, diminished and forgotten. Before we pass, we must revisit the places of our horrors. Mine are here.”
Nagler wanted to respond, but she cut him off.
“My horrors are here. Yours are not. Walk again the streets of the ghetto, the damaged, dirty streets of industry. Those are your places of sadness.That’s where you are, Francis, where you have always been. Ask why. And as you ask, you may see why Mahala Dixon has done the things she has done.”
She reached for his hand and kissed it with dry lips. “I must go.”
From the roadside as the SUV pulled away, Nagler wondered if he might ever see the sister again. Before he could open the envelope, his phone rang. It was Mulligan, the medical examiner. “Got it, on my way.”
The Red Hand: A Frank Nagler Mystery by Michael Stephen Daigle, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)