Brimstone (Pendergast #5)(10)

“You think that * is intelligent and decent? Christ, if you could spend a day working for him, you’d change your tune.”

“It’s you, Vincent, who needs to change your tune. There are far worse policemen than Lieutenant Braskie, and we’ve worked with them.”

“So you’re going to save me, is that it?”

“No, Vincent. It’s the case that will save you. From yourself.”

D’Agosta stood up. “I don’t have to take this shit from you or anyone.” He pulled out his wallet, dropped a crumpled five on the table, and stalked out.

Ten minutes later D’Agosta found Pendergast in the same place he’d left him, the crumpled bill still sitting there. He pulled out the chair, sat down, and ordered another iced tea, his face burning. Pendergast merely nodded as he finished the last bite of his lunch. Then he removed a piece of paper from his jacket pocket and laid it gently on the table.

“This is a list of the four people who attended Jeremy Grove’s last party, and the name and number of the priest who received his final phone call. It’s as good a place to start as any. Considering how short the list is, there are some rather interesting names on it.” He pushed the paper across the table.

D’Agosta nodded. The burning sensation began to ebb as he looked at the names and addresses. Something began to stir in him: the old excitement of working a case. A good case.

“How’s this going to work, with me being on the Southampton P.D. and all?”

“I will arrange with Lieutenant Braskie to get you assigned as the local FBI liaison officer.”

“He’ll never go for it.”

“On the contrary, he will be only too happy to get rid of you. And in any case, it won’t be presented as a request. Braskie, as you pointed out, is a political animal, and he will do as he is told.”

D’Agosta nodded.

Pendergast checked his watch. “Almost two. Come on, Vincent, we’ve got a long drive ahead of us. Priests dine early, but we might just catch Father Cappi if we hurry.”

{ 6 }

D’Agosta felt like he’d been swallowed by Ahab’s white whale, cushioned as he was in the white leather interior of a ’59 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith. Chauffeured, no less. Pendergast had certainly come up in the world since the bad old days of the museum murders, when he drove a late-model Buick from the Bureau pool. Maybe a relative died and left him a few billion. He glanced over. Or maybe the time for dissembling had simply passed.

The car was cruising up Route 9, along a beautiful stretch of the middle Hudson Valley north of Poughkeepsie. After months spent among low sand dunes and beach scrub, D’Agosta found the lush greenery and rolling hills a relief to the eyes. Here and there, old mansions could be seen: set far back from the road, overlooking the river or tucked in among copses of trees. Some had signs identifying them as monasteries or retreats; others still seemed to be in private ownership. Despite the warmth of the day, there were already strong traces of fall coloring in the trees that marched up the gentle slopes.

The car slowed, then slid into a long cobbled driveway, coming at last to a noiseless stop beneath a red-brick porte-cochère. As he stepped out of the car, D’Agosta found himself before a rambling, Flemish-style mansion. A narrow bell tower at the flank of the building appeared to be a later addition. Beyond, well-tended greensward swept down toward the Hudson. A plaque screwed into the facade announced that the structure was built in 1874 and was now designated a historic site on the National Register of Historic Places.

Their knock was answered by a cowled monk in brown robes, a silken rope tied around his waist. Without a word, he ushered them into an elegant interior smelling of time and wax polish. Pendergast bowed and presented the monk with a card; in turn, the monk nodded and beckoned. They followed him through several turnings and twistings of corridors to a spartan room, whitewashed and bare save for a single crucifix and two rows of hard wooden chairs along opposite walls. A single window near the exposed rafters let in a bar of light.

The monk bowed and withdrew. Moments later, another figure appeared in the door. He, too, was dressed in a monk’s habit, but when he drew back the collar, D’Agosta was surprised to find a man well over six feet, broad-shouldered, square-jawed, with black eyes that sparkled with vigor. In the background, he could hear the faint peal of bells as the changes began to ring in the tower. Somehow it gave him the shivers.

“I’m Father Bernard Cappi,” the man said. “Welcome to the Hyde Park Carthaginian Monastery. Here we’re under a vow of silence, but we meet in this particular room once a week to talk. We call it the Disputation Chamber, because this is where we piss and moan. You build up a lot of resentments in a week of silence.” He swept his robes back, taking a seat.

“This is my associate, Sergeant D’Agosta,” Pendergast said, following the monk’s lead. “He may want to ask questions as well.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance.” The priest crushed his hand in greeting. This is no gentle lamb of God, thought D’Agosta. He eased down in the chair, shifting, trying hard to get comfortable. He failed. The room, despite the sunny day outside, felt cold and damp. God, he would never make a good monk.

“I sincerely apologize for this intrusion,” said Pendergast.

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