© by J M Dragon August 2005
The peal of bells from the nunnery tower caused one to reflect for a moment on the tenacity of the sound that had been resonating for centuries - it was hard to believe in this throw away world of ours. Cleverly complimenting that, the order of nuns had been established for the last seven hundred years. Barring the odd war and religious insurgence from the local populace, the order had lived out their lives and, if not flourished in the confines, certainly survived! Wasn't surviving enough? Particularly as the human race had a hell bent suicide mission automatically installed at birth. From the point of view of an outsider or alien from another planet you would certainly be forgiven for thinking we had that tormented structure in our lives, in particular with our treatment of our fellow man, and the hand that fed us, our planet. Needless to say, those bells didn't stop and hadn't through thick and thin. This perhaps signified the order's fortitude, a little like the true nature of the human beast. We survived some how or another - at times it wasn't prudent to ask how, merely thank whomever you prayed to, if you did, for that second…millionth chance.
Darkness had eroded any natural light. The shadowy strands of moon-glow that led the way towards the main part of the order's building, danced, with what might be called frightening images of gargoyles and immobile faces of the past. Following such a path was, if you thought about it, as brave as facing Satan himself. It was hard to figure that, in a hundred yards, these imposing images and half-lights that lit the way to the entrance would be flooded with artificial light. Almost like following the path too heaven some might say, particularly inside the building. Out of the darkness into the light! Cobbled paths treated the feet with a somewhat haphazard meandering route that had the balls of the feet protesting for the smooth cement surface they were used to. Alas, it wasn't to be; not here anyway. Luxury, even as perverse as a decent pathway wasn't the norm for this particular order. The only true luxury was the nurturing of the soul, at least that's what this order considered paramount.
Cascadian Nuns were an old order of a long ceased practicing European faith; the fact that this one nunnery survived today was perhaps testament to a long forgotten ethos that our modern views of the world had totally given up on. The fact remains these nuns devoted their lives to helping the soul sick. How that translates to modern day speak is a matter of opinion, possibly some would say the equivalent of herbal medicine for psychiatry. They lived cloistered lives and had little contact with the outside world. The only outsiders allowed access to the buildings and property were invited and on rare occasion a government official or two. The invited were those that need help and as for the government - that was rare. In all the years the order had been in this location it had never fallen foul of the administration and wanted to keep it like that.
As with all old buildings at some stage something happens that requires attention and the only people left to call are the ones you really wish you didn't need!
+ + +
Doctor Amelia West had braved the gargoyles and the imposing gate that had greeted her and rang the outside bell. Its sound appeared to echo a far greater distance than the entrance vestibule. Gazing up at the old stonework that had survived centuries of embattlement and a move of country, she smiled at the cherubic features of a face that had been carved in the stone centuries earlier. It made her consider just who had done the deed, what they would say if they had known that it lasted for hundreds of years and that in this technical age, people like her would still be looking upon it in awe of its craftsmanship.
"How may I help you?" a voice, gentle in style yet cleverly disguised a controlling fraction, asked.
"Hello, my name is Doctor West. I believe you're expecting me."
The nun peered at the outsider and then turned away to consult, as much as Amelia could glean, a document. As she watched the nun stooped over a table and what she surmised was a ledger she wondered if perhaps she was wrong and it was a computer instead. Whatever it was, a short time later she was being ushered inside the entrance and the heavy door slammed shut behind her.
"I will bring Mother Superior to you, please wait here. Please do not stray past this point." The emphasis, clearly on the no straying part, brought a smile to Amelia's lips. It reminded her of her years spent in a restrictive environment such as this one.
"No problem, take your time."
Amelia watched the nun leave. Her habit was the old style garment that had, in many orders, been forsaken for a less restrictive dress code to suit current modern day trends. At times, it was hard to tell a nun on the street and it wasn't surprising that some conservative parts of the community frowned upon the practice. Glancing around the entrance vestibule, Amelia saw the general prerequisites of the religious order and the austerity that went with it. The area was freezing cold too. It must cost a fortune to heat these days. All that stonework was a boon for the electric and gas companies, which made it not unsurprising that most of the old convents had closed down and taken up residence in a much more practical environment.
Walking over to a small stained glass window on the north end of the area, she was struck at its simplicity yet power of the subject matter. It was a A figure of a woman, probably a past nun of the order, with her eyes raised to a shaft of light that was presumably the pathway to God. It was quite inspiring even for someone who was less than religious.
Another nun who had the ambience of someone with more authority than the earlier one appeared from out of nowhere. "Thank you for arriving so promptly Doctor West. If you will please follow me our Mother will see you in her study." Amelia followed as directed. They passed along three narrow corridors that were all adorned with crucifixes and tapestries from various centuries. This place was a goldmine of historical artifacts. Probably if an appraiser came there he would be whistling through his teeth at the fortune that could be gained from selling even one of the pieces.
After following the black habit for what seemed like forever, Amelia was finally shown into a private study. She gasped at the opulence of the room in contrast to the rest of the building she had seen so far. It was adorned with leather tooled books along the length of each wall. A large, no, gigantic desk resided pride of place in the centre of the room and well-worn leather chairs were placed in several strategic positions around the room. As she was shown inside, Amelia saw the figure of a nun sitting silently in the corner as if she was lost in the room. That wasn't the case. As the door closed silently behind her the woman rose from her chair and held out her hand as a carefully controlled smile flittered around her lips.
"My dear, welcome, we are grateful that you chose to attend and grant your advice to us on this delicate situation."
Amelia grasped the hand and gave the older nun a smile. The woman appeared to genuinely want her there and that was a good start. Most of the places like this that she went to had a difficult Mother Superior but this looked promising. "Thank you Mother, it is a pleasure to answer your call. I've heard a lot of great things about your order." It wasn't bullshit - it was true, for over the years she had. It was not her choice of orders however some still went for the harshness of the old ways.
"Thank you. I of course have heard of you too. You have an impressive record in your field."
Trading glance-for-glance with the older woman, Amelia saw an element of truth in the statement but also wariness and that was understandable. Psychologists were not every person's favourite professional body to have around. Still she was here to help in any way her expertise could and right now ensuring that the leader of this particular order was on her side had to be the priority.
"Records are only impressive if you can continue to have good results. Some would say I've been lucky in my cases." Amelia looked down at her well-manicured hands that lay in her lap as she spoke then glanced up to gauge the Mother Superior's reactions.
"Yes, you are right. We are often cursed by our failures and overlooked when we succeed." The older woman's voice held a resignation and reflection of complete understanding.
"Do you want to explain the situation to me as you understand it?" Amelia decided to get right to the point. The Mother was on her side and that had to be good enough for the time being.
For a moment the Mother looked flustered and then, in a low voice, began to relate the situation from her viewpoint as head of the order.
"At this time, Sister Marie Clarice-Benoite is our most sensitive and successful practitioner in the nunnery. She has completed hundreds of sessions with unfortunates who sought our help with their soul problems and had a remarkable success rate. We at first thought it was over-work or stress related this … this problem she has now portrayed. Of course she refuses to consider this and has stated before God that this is divine intervention. We have prayed constantly for a solution but none has been given to us. Initially we refused Father Johansson's help when he paid one of his regular visits out of friendship. As I'm sure you are aware, we do not consider ourselves part of the main stream." The Mother Superior stopped and stood up to face the window in the large study.
Amelia studied the woman's straight back as she waited for the Mother Superior to continue. She already knew that the nun they were talking about refused to accept that her current predicament was anything but the hand of God. It happened, and she was the one, hopefully, to have the nun understand and accept the truth of her condition.
"Now, we have no choice but to accept outside help. Our order is in torment for we have believers of Sister Marie Clarise-Benoite's testament and that cannot possibly be!" The last statement was expressed with extreme emotional anxiety.
"I understand your predicament Mother. Do you have any objection if I meet with Sister Marie Clarise-Benoite and make an initial evaluation about the case today?"
The Mother Superior turned to the younger woman and nodded slowly, "You understand that this is extremely sensitive and must never be revealed to the outside world?"
"I understand perfectly, though I must make my own position clear. I cannot, and will not, discuss the Sister's private sessions with anyone, and that includes you Mother." This was where Amelia knew she was treading on quick-sand. In all the cases she had taken it was always the same; the initial wanting to have help overridden by the need to keep secrecy. That and the fact that the Mother Superior was, without any spin on it, the top dog who had to know everything there was to know about her own order.
Complete silence shrouded the room and Amelia wondered if this was a stumbling block that would prevent her from seeing the patient. It had occurred before but only once and that had been trounced by a senior power. "I'm sorry to labour the point Mother. However, it is important you understand this and that I have your complete cooperation."
With a heavy sigh the Mother Superior replied, "I do not like that factor but I will abide by it on the grounds that it does no harm to the order and the rest of the nuns. If this leaks to the outside world only you will be responsible and I will make you atone for that sin. Is that perfectly clear?"
Well, she'd had some interesting sessions with Mother Superiors over the years but this was a first. Could she actually be under some kind of notice of threat? Perhaps she hadn't done enough background research on this convent. She'd consult with Father Johansson when she returned to her office. "I think we understand each other Mother. Now may I see the Sister?"
"I will take you to her personally. Father Johansson indicated that you preferred to keep things formal and be named as Doctor West therefore we will refer to you as such in all dealings here. Now please follow me, I have vespers to take."
Amelia followed suit. In her gut she had a feeling that this case might prove the most challenging of her career to-date. The one thing her own mother had always said about her was she wasn't afraid to take a challenge head on. Others had also told her told that sometimes a collision that might hurt may occur. She would cross that particular bridge when it came along. Right now Amelia was fascinated to meet the troubled Sister and hopefully provide the answer to, if not her prayers, the rest of the orders.
+ + +
The door to the cell that housed Sister Marie Clarise-Benoite was as large an example of a medieval oak door as the inside was a stark and cave-like in appearance. Much as Amelia had expected. The whole building had the aura of being in the dark ages with its dim lighting and chilly corridors. In the depths of winter the place must be no better than living in medieval times. As the door opened wider, she saw a plain wooden chair in one corner, a rather non-descript single draw table on the other with a bed in the middle. The bed had to have been made for a midget as the dimensions didn't dwarf the room in any way. Standing to the left of the chair stood a dark shrouded figure where a tiny window, barely the size of a foolscap letter, held some fascination to the only occupant.
"Sister, you have a visitor, a psychiatrist friend of Father Johansson's." The harshness of the words had Amelia take in a deep breath. Did the Mother have to be so blunt?
Initially there was no movement from the figure whose back was towards the new occupants of the room and then the body turned slowly towards them. What Amelia had expected and what she now saw made her silently throw a few prayers up to the good father in heaven herself.
Sister Marie Clarise-Benoite, had a slimly built figure, and one might say pathetically so. Making the emancipation even more pronounced, as the reason Amelia was here, physically showed itself in view for the first time. The Sister was dressed in a loosely fitting habit that didn't help matters. In fact, to a stranger she looked under nourished and feeble, except … her face had a serene quality that made you lose sight of her physical bodily appearance and concentrate instead on the soul within. To make sense of her thoughts, Amelia noted in her head that looking at the picture of the Madonna was a little like the presence that glowed around this particular nun. In fact, she looked the picture of true innocence, which was what most people's perception was of a nun.
"Hello Sister, I hope you don't mind the intrusion, my name is Doctor West." Amelia walked into the room and offered her hand in greeting to the nun.
Sister Marie did not take the gesture but nodded her head towards the chair. As she did so, her eyes cast upon the Mother Superior who, with a despairing shake of the head, quickly left the room announcing she was late for vespers.
The door had been closed behind the mother and that was how Amelia normally carried out her evaluations although, for a few seconds, she felt that the door being ajar might not be a bad idea. There was something nagging at Amelia's subconscious as the room became, to her anyway, like a prison cell. She had never enjoyed being in small spaces and right now this felt very claustrophobic.
A sound that left you feeling warm and safe drifted over to her as Amelia realised that the nun was speaking. "Don't worry, take a deep breath and you will feel much better."
What the … had someone told the nun she wasn't particularly enamoured by small spaces? Then again who would know? "Thanks, it's a small space phobia. How did you know?"
Sister Marie smiled. She felt the soul in the room with her had nothing but good intentions. "I have an ability that bonds with other souls. In some people that particular attachment is very clear."
Grinning slightly, Amelia pulled out a small electronic notebook and showed it to the Sister. "Do you mind?"
For a moment, the softness in the gaze that emanated from the brown eyes disappeared and then reappeared almost as quickly. "I know why you are here. It was only a matter of time."
Amelia heard the resignation in the nun's voice. At least it wasn't negative. "I'm here to help if I can. If at any time you feel I'm intrusive please let me know and I'll change the subject matter."
"Thank you, but nothing that you ask me will be intrusive. I have nothing to hide and have never lied about anything in my life and will not do so now. Although, I suspect some would rather I did under the circumstances."
Amelia quickly wrote down one word, delusional.
"How about we start with the basic stuff, where you were born, how old you are that kind of thing."
Half an hour later, Amelia had the basic background of the patient for her to work on. The Sister was twenty-nine years of age. She had been brought up in the orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy in a town two hundred miles away. When she was sixteen she had found that her talent for understanding the souls, as she called it, made her something of an oddity. Having already decided to take her vows, the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Mercy had contacted the Cascadian Nuns, who were documented as having talents in this area. Initially upset at not being allowed into her chosen convent, the Sister had found that this was where her abilities were best suited. In the thirteen years she had been here her ability had been nourished. Now she felt that she had been chosen and bestowed with a gift from God.
"Sister, when you say a gift from God, and you had been chosen, don't you think that most women in your particular situation feel the same way?" Amelia watched every facial expression for any sign that the nun would show any kind of self-doubt.
She didn't, quite the reverse in fact. As her face became wreathed in a smile that filled the room with sunshine, its power incredibly enticing. "People who do not fully understand think that way. I know that at first I had to consider the possibility that this was a trick that my mind was playing with me. Time has proven otherwise."
Frowning slightly, Amelia noted the nun's words. Then with a warm smile of her own, which was a fraction of the intensity she had felt emitted from the nun's, she replied, "In what respect has time given you the conviction that it isn't, for want of a better expression, a figment of your imagination."
The nun was silent for a few moments, Amelia wasn't sure if that was a good or bad sign, though she would gauge that soon enough.
"God has given me the gift of sight of the soul. I know that I'm not like other women."
Amelia glanced around the room and a shudder ran down her spine. The zealot was always the hardest to convince and the Sister was definitely in that category complete with turbo charger attached. Standing up from the uncomfortable chair, Amelia decided that now was a good time to end the initial consultation, if you could call it that.
"I'll leave you to your prayers Sister, and if you have no objections, I'll return tomorrow?"
The frail nun turned her arms and wrapped them around her abdomen, her features serene. Clearly she thought that she knew what her path was, even if it was absurd to suggest it could be true. "I have no objections Doctor West. I will see you tomorrow." The nun gave Amelia a gentle smile and returned to her contemplation of the small window in the room.
Leaving the cell and closing the door behind her, Amelia had to confess that the woman was going to be a tough nut to crack. But, she would give it her best shot, for the nun, her friend Father Johansson, the convent and the other nuns' sanities. Most of all, she would do it for the unborn child that the nun was carrying.
When she returned to the office she was going to have to consult with the church about other such cases. She knew that there had been isolated incidents of this nature linked to a liaison of some description with a man from the outside. Because, at the end of the day, there had to be some male influence at work - God, pardon her blasphemy, did not make the frame as the possible candidate!
+ + +
Father Johansson gave Amelia a searching glance as he contemplated her request. Then his greying eyebrows moved towards a skyward position as he finally spoke, "Is it really necessary for you to have the old cases?"
"Father, it is essential. Better yet, if you have another in my field that has this type of experience then I'll gladly leave the case to them." Amelia knew that the church was less than forth-coming when it involved private and personal information within their community. Although she would love to have this case as solved in her portfolio for the future, it was a way too sensitive a situation not to have the right professional in charge.
With a grizzled smile the priest shook his head. "Sorry, we haven't anyone else that we would trust to take this case. Besides, it will be good for you. I'll have the files sent over in the next couple of days. Now what else do you want? Because I know by the look on your face there's more you haven't asked for."
He was right she did want more information. "Do I receive the physician's report on the pregnancy"?
There were a few moments of silence before the father replied, "It can't be done Amelia."
"I get the picture. It isn't right to intrude on the Sister's private medical records. Fine, who can provide the details without showing me the contents? I need to know everything before I can decided on what type of therapy to use."
"There isn't anyone but the Sister herself. She has refused all attempts by the Mother Superior to see a doctor about her condition. As much as the Mother can do she has. Beyond actually forcing her to see the convent's resident physician, there is little we can do."
Amelia frowned. This wasn't a good start but then again maybe it was. "Is the local doctor a man?"
With a soft chuckle the Father shook his head. "Sorry Amelia, but it's a woman and has been for the last fifty years. Good thinking though, as I believe you thought that the doctor might have something to do with the delicate situation, was I right?"
"On the button as always Father. I can't get anything by you can I?"
"No you can't my girl. I've known you since you were a baby and your parents had you christened in my church. Even at the Sunday school classes with those tricks you played to get out of the class, I always found you out."
Amelia walked from around her desk and kissed the old man on the cheek. He was a one-off the good Father, and she was glad that he had always been in her life. "You certainly did Father. I might need someone to help me with the research and a little leg work. Do you have a candidate that you trust with the case?"
With a hearty laugh the Father stood up from his chair and flexed some of his aging muscles that refused to function without a little extra help these days. "I know just the person. Give me a little time and they will be here in your office before you can say your prayers. Now Amelia, I have to go and talk with the Archbishop about your request and have those files brought here. Will you let me know how you're progressing?"
"You know I will within the bounds of the doctor patient confidentiality. It could take time though. I think the good Sister is pathologically convinced she's giving birth to a child of God, in the truest sense of the term."
"I know you'll do your best Amelia. By the way, Sister Constance sends her regards." The Father left Amelia with a cherry wave of his hand leaving her to contemplate what to do next.
The mention of Sister Constance brought a smile to her face. The old nun had been her favourite teacher in high school. Having been educated in a restrictive church establishment wasn't what appealed to young adolescents and she was no exception. Time and again she had broken the rules and made life a misery for some of the younger nuns. As she broke the rules, so Sister Constance had chastised her and made her stay behind at school to help with chores and extra prayers. Gradually over the years she came to respect the old nun, and it was, in part, her teachings, in particular the human mind, that had pushed Amelia towards her profession. She had never regretted her chosen career path and knew that deep down the old nun had been delighted with her choices. Ah Sister Constance what would you make of this particular situation I wonder?
Now back to the important matter of how to tackle the next phase with the Sister . First, she needed a list of things for the help to uncover on her behalf. Normally she worked independently but this case was different. Her concentration had to be on the nun's state of mind and whoever came to help could search out the physical evidence to explain the nun's current dilemma. Reaching inside the pocket of her jacket she removed a small voice activated recorder and switched it on and began listing various points for both her and the assistant.
1. Find out if there were ever any men allowed in the convent.
2. Had the nun ever gone beyond the walls of the convent for any length of time?
3. Could a trespasser have had access to the nun's rooms?
4. Had the nun been acting strangely in recent months?
5. Anyone have a grudge against the nun?
6. Check out her sketchy background, any siblings, any chance of mental illness ran in the family.
Switching off the recorder, Amelia glanced over at the clock. It was almost lunch and right now a Starbucks coffee would go down nicely as a treat.
+ + +
Father Johansson gave the figure standing at the graffiti covered wall, which was shadowed by the lengthening of the night approaching, a careful once over to assure himself of the person's identity before walking forward. It wasn't the safest area in the neighbourhood and picking a conversation with the wrong person could get one a nasty beating, even if he were a priest.
"Why are you standing here in this dark alley way Olivia? Are you up to no good like the last time I caught you here?"
A dark swathe of hair swung around as a Latino woman faced him her lips in a snarling position until she realised who had spoken her name. "Why Father Johansson, what brings you into this area of the neighbourhood at this time of night?"
"You did Olivia. I've been looking for you all day. Can you spare me a little of your time?"
With a deep sultry chuckle, the Latino woman hugged the old priest and nodded her head. "Let's go to Mike's bar. I'll even buy you a Guinness that you're so fond of."
Arm in arm the unlikely looking duo headed for the bar across the street. The neon light flickered the name Mike above them as they entered the establishment. It was Wednesday evening so not many frequented the bar but even so, there was a hush for a few seconds as the old priest stepped inside.
"Mike, I'll have a beer. Father here will have the best you have on the house." Olivia Santos shouted to the barkeep who had a smile plastered over his boxing ravaged face at the sight of the couple.
"Only the best for you Father. It's been a while since you've blessed me with your presence. Take a table over there and I'll bring the drinks to you."
"Thank you Michael. I'll look forward to drinking the fine nectar of the old country."
Several minutes later, after a brief conversation with the barkeep when he brought the drinks, Olivia gave the priest a quizzical look. "Want to tell me now what brought you out from your cosy church to roam the delinquent streets to find me?"
"I need you to help a friend of mine solve a mystery."
"A mystery heh. Who's the friend?"
"A psychiatrist, there's some leg work to take care of and I know you are the one to do it … with the utmost discretion."
Olivia grinned and her perfect teeth glistened against her olive skin. "Discretion is the name of the game with me Father as you know. I always thought shrinks worked alone?"
"They do, at least for the most part. However, this is a delicate case, a church matter. It needs a few questions answered to fill in some gaps. I doubt it will be more work than a day, or so, for someone of your calibre. Will you do it?"
Smoothing the skin around her strong rather than the normally delicate jaw of a woman, Olivia thought about the request. Not much is happening in town at the moment and a break would be good from my current case load. Max can handle the office for a day. "Okay, but only a day mind you … I have other irons in the fire."
"You're a wonderful woman Olivia. Thank you, I'll pray for you this evening." The Father smiled warmly at the young woman. Olivia Santos had a chequered past and one that she wasn't proud of, but that had set her in good stead for the career she had now fallen literally into - private detection. With her partner Max Anderton, they owned a detective agency and from all accounts the business was thriving. He had gotten to know her ten years earlier when she had fallen from grace with the police over what was eventually translated as an overly enthusiastic shooting of what turned out to be a rotten DA. She had been retired quietly from the force and embarked on a mysterious, and some said sordid episodes, before meeting Max Anderton, who owned a run down detective agency. With the help of a few words of kindly persuasion from a certain priest, he took a chance and put the young woman was on his payroll. It had worked out all around and Max now looked on Olivia as the daughter he never had.
"Hmm okay, now tell me where this shrink is and the name."
"Doctor West, 100 Boulevard Terrace. I said you'd be there before she said her prayers."
"As always with you Father, no rush." She laughed heartily. "Don't worry I'll go in the morning."
The discussion turned to other topics as the two caught up on the latest events happening in the neighbourhood.
+ + +
Axel Randal glanced out of the office window at the sea of faces hidden behind the screens of the outer area that he could just partially make out . This was the commercial hub of a business that had fingers in every conceivable pie both legal and illegal. The rest of the floors in the fifteen story building were government departments of differing levels. It was the perfect foil for his particular operation to be lost in. It is sometimes better to live in the belly of the dragon than to live outside it a close associate of his had once informed him. The door to his office opened as Pamela, his secretary, entered with the package he'd been waiting for. Thanking her for her prompt delivery he waved her out of her office and asked her to hold any calls until he told her otherwise.
Wanting as much privacy as possible, he closed the automatic blinds that gave him total isolation from the sight of any curious eyes. He picked up the small packet and gazed at it for a few moments before opening it with the flick of his sharp paper knife. As the contents were taken out one at a time a note, attached to the main report, was the most important part of the package.
The church is about to intervene. We have to extract the sample now. Ensure it is in the lab within forty-eight hours of the courier arriving with the package. I don't need to explain what will happen if you are late or do not comply.
Slipping the note into his wallet Axel sighed for this was an unexpected situation. Tthey had committed million of dollars to this project and to have it almost at full term and in jeopardy was not an option.
Half an hour later, Axel left his office and took the elevator to the car park in the basement of the building. Locating bay eleven, he stood by the dark Mercedes and waited for the window to drop down. A leather gloved hand slid out slowly and Axel dropped a package into the out-stretched palm. No words were spoken as Axel moved away seconds before the car exited the parking space. Had he not moved when he did he'd have been nursing bruised, if not broken, metatarsals.
He reached inside his jacket and speed dialled a number on his cell. The call was answered immediately.
"We have a problem."
"What kind of problem?" the party at the other end of the phone asked quietly.
"Interference. Why haven't you informed me of this situation?"
There was silence and a heavy sigh at the other end of the line. "I didn't expect things to become this complicated or that anyone would be allowed access so easily."
"Have the sample ready for collection by my operative at the arranged place tomorrow evening."
"It's impossible. I need more time."
"There isn't any more time. Don't let me down - the price for that you wouldn't want to pay."
Axel ended the call abruptly and headed back to his office. His next appointment was with the rather ravishing deputy district attorney, Sheila Crawford.
+ + +
Stretching her aching shoulders after a three-hour drive from town to the convent in heavy traffic wasn't how Amelia usually began her sessions. The comfort of her office and a large latte by her side was her usual modus-operandi. Locking the car at the gated entrance to the austere looking building, she pulled the bell cord. As she waited for a nun to allow her entry she mused over the notes she had taken on her visit the previous day and her initial analysis of the patient. Without knowing the finer details, her first reaction as a diagnosis would be as she mentioned to Father Johansson, delusional. Various reasons abounded in the outside world, such as stress related concerns, emotional problems, inability to cope - the list went on. However, in such an environment, could some of those factors be dismissed?
"How may I help you?" The voice brought Amelia out of her ponderings as she smiled at the nun who gave her a slight smile in reaction. Her quizzical grey eyes were friendly but not overly so.
"Hello, I'm Doctor West. I believe you are expecting me."
The nun gave her a long searching look and then, with a tilt of her covered head, opened the lock of the gate. As she did so Amelia wondered if the key was as enormous as the lock itself.
Entering the convent courtyard made the same shiver that had gone down her back the previous day returned with a vengeance. It was not surprising as she saw several pairs of eyes watching her every step towards the main door and the inner sanctum. Looks like I'm going to popular around here - not! She had been subjected to similar aversions in the past when she was involved with other church cases.
With a quickening of her step, she almost cannoned into the back of the nun who was escorting but luckily Amelia stopped in time. As the door of the entrance opened, the dark confines, which were in stark contrast to the beautiful blue sky that lightened the medieval features of the outer building, greeted her.
"Ah, Doctor West punctual, very good." Mother Superior spoke in a clipped manner. She wanted this interloper out of her convent as soon as possible. If she had her way, no outsider would be allowed within these walls. Only those in need when unwanted aspects of the modern world infringed upon them would be allowed. When she had been young, the convent had used the small church a few miles away to carry out any ministering to the poor souls who needed them. Today's modern world had too many risks involved to allow them the same luxury.
Amelia smiled at the older nun. In a way she reminded Amelia of Sister Constance and the way she clung to the old ways. Not that there was anything wrong with those days but, at some stage, you had to move with the times or they simply passed you by. And, before you knew it, you were a relic of days gone by of no use to anyone. Here, in this convent, it was worse than any other she had experienced. "I try to arrive at the appointed time Mother. Is Sister Marie Clarise-Benoite ready for our session?"
"She is. She asked that I allow you to undertake your sessions in the library. I have agreed. I can only allow you privacy in that area for a two-hour period. Will that be sufficient?"
"Absolutely, thank you." Amelia sighed silently in relief. The library had to be bigger at least than the shoebox the nun had as her private quarters.
A few minutes later, Amelia was shown into the library and she smiled slightly as she saw the size of the room. It was impressively decked out with thousands of volumes in ceiling high wooden racks reminiscent of an old fashioned country house library one saw in the movies. The sun streamed in from the large windows that gave the room a warm appealing ambience.
"I thought you might prefer to have our consultation with a more open room." A voice travelled from a corner of the room and Amelia spun around to stare at Sister Marie Clarise-Benoite.
"Thank you, that was very thoughtful of you. How are you feeling today?" If it was possible, the serene expression become even more marked on the sister's features.
"I'm very well, thank you. If you want to feel as if you are in a garden please step over here." The nun pointed to a spot several feet from her position.
Amelia intrigued, did so and was amazed to see that from that part of the room one could view three different windows. In the main view was the potage garden that was being tended to by several of the nuns. "Wow this is great." The seating in the room wasn't comfortable but it would serve its purpose. "Shall we have the session here? I'm sure it will ease any tension you might have about my visit."
The nun turned her head to gaze into Amelia's face and then she spoke softly, "I have no tension around you doctor quite the opposite."
With a start and feeling somewhat mentally naked under the intensity of the nun's gaze, Amelia motioned for them to sit in the two chairs closest to them.
Amelia began the session with an unobtrusive start and, as the session progressed, she felt that the nun was being honest with her answers. Interestingly enough, when she had asked if there had been any interaction with any males in the last year, the nun had chosen that moment to hesitate for the first time in her answers. Ah so now we are getting to the point.
A smile that put the sun to shame wreathed the nun's face as she finally spoke. "Of course I have interaction with a male. Have you forgotten I'm married to God? I speak with him every day. He is always with me in my heart and mind and in the very essence of everything that I do."
Invisibly kicking her self for the way she had asked the question, Amelia nodded her head and tried again. "I was thinking more of mortal man in a physical capacity … in your work or perhaps someone who might visit the convent?"
"We are Cascadian nuns Doctor, we have little interaction with the outside world. Men who require our services are helped by the older nuns or under supervision. I have not had a male soul searcher, as we like to term it, in over two years. As to any other man who might have been within the walls the answer is no."
The conviction in the Sister's voice and the slightly indignant way she spoke had Amelia wondering if these delusions were brought about pathological lying. It had happened in extreme cases before. "You know why I'm asking you this question don't you Sister?"
"Of course, you don't believe that the child I carry is a gift from God. I may be a nun and not worldly of the modern goings on but I am not stupid. It is clear that many do not have the faith I do and are looking at other avenues that might explain my condition."
At least the nun wasn't totally out of her mind. What she didn't understand was that what she was actually saying about the father of her child had people suspecting her sanity. "Thank you for being frank with me Sister. To some, what you indicate is a little bit hard to believe and they want justification of the truth by facts. I heard that you didn't want to see a doctor … not a doctor like me but your physician to check that everything was okay with the baby?"
Standing up from her seat with a flow that had Amelia wondering if the woman was the next best thing to an angel, she said, "I know that my baby is healthy therefore there is no need for a doctor to tell me so."
Amelia considered the situation for a few moments and then posed a question crossing her fingers as she spoke. "I could arrange for you to see a doctor who didn't know who you were or anything about you. Allow them to examine you and check both you and the baby out. Maybe the baby is healthy, but I'm told that carrying a child takes quite a bit out of the mother. What do you say about that? I know it will ease some of the wagging tongues that believe you are having a phantom pregnancy."
Wide eyes flew open in amazement and distress as Amelia mentioned the possibility that the pregnancy was a phantom projection. "How could anyone think I would lie about such an important time in my life?"
Perhaps her words had hit home harder than she had expected but at least Amelia applauded herself on producing a less than serene objective to the predicament. "Will you agree? I can arrange the appointment today if Mother Superior allows?"
The nun closed her eyes before opening them again and staring into Amelia's face as if she were searching it. Amelia didn't know what she was looking for but whatever it was obviously satisfied the nun as she slowly nodded her head. "Arrange it. I will speak with Mother."
Amelia speculated that the agreement was a little too quick. "I need to make a few calls. I'll go back to my car and make them. Then I'll advise Mother Superior and we can leave as soon as I've set everything up."
"Impossible I never leave the convent!"
Hmm the first stumbling block, this had been too easy . "If you want the doctor to be impartial, the consultation cannot be performed here." The smell of leather, which had been gradually permeating her nostrils, now attacked her forcibly as Amelia waited for a reply in the silent room.
"Will you be with me all the time?" There was a timid quality about the voice. It sounded like a child who was going to the dentist for the first time and had heard all the horror stories about the dreadful chair.
Amelia gave the nun a comforting glance. "Yes, every step of the way. For as long as you need me."
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