Home > In Death #27 - Salvation in Death

In Death #27 - Salvation in Death
Author: J.D. Robb

J.D. Robb - In Death #27 - Salvation in Death

Salvation in Death (In Death #27)
J.D. Robb





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, en „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.

Power. Presence.

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?”

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