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Chapter 16

A Warning of Murder

 

As Hog stood in the semi-darkness of the warehouse, the silence encircling him and the smells of long dead animals lingering in the air, he opened his eyes, coming out of his memories with both clarity and a sense that he had been deeply deceived by his old friend.  In remembering so much about his meeting with Tommy he realized how betrayed he felt by this demand on him to keep his word, the very word that his friend tricked him into giving on that fateful day six years ago.  Hog looked up then at the windows of the third floor and saw that the dawn was approaching and the space around him was taking shape more distinctly in the early hours of Thursday morning.  He hadn’t felt that he had been in the warehouse for so long.  “Was this all I came here for?” he said, “just this shit piece of paper!”  Everything seemed so elaborate in getting him to this point.  He wasn’t sure what he expected, but he thought perhaps more than what he held in his hand now.  He looked down at the paper again, trying to focus on the few words written on the page and to make sense of what he was reading.  He saw a date, a place, a name, and a military ranking but nothing else. 

 

                                                                              January 1942, Texas                           Oliver P. Jones, Sergeant

 

“Who the hell is he?” said Hog out loud, “fuck, never mind keepin’ quiet now!” he spat the words out in disgust.  “Jesus, what the fuck is this all about, Tommy?” and in speaking his friend’s name he suddenly felt abject rage for the first time.  He had felt a range of emotions so far, but not rage and now he let this feeling loose and free in his heart.  “Shit, shit, shit, fuck, damn you Tommy! Hog screamed, releasing his rage into the air and hearing his voice drop into the cavernous space.  The sound didn’t go anywhere and he felt only slightly better for yelling.  He looked down at the piece of paper again and felt overwhelmed by everything he had experienced so far since his life had changed dramatically with the introduction of the silver key tied with a red ribbon.   He leaned against the table on which the chest sat, and mused on his situation; “why am I here again, in Warehouse 1 and on the third floor? How would Tommy or anybody have known to send me here?” In the last case, he had also been up to the fourth floor with Big Sam in tow and had found the killing room, yet he was sent back to the third floor by some unknown person or persons, maybe even Tommy, himself, for all Hog knew.  And as far as he could tell, for some unknown reason.  “Could I be here to just find a piece of paper?  Fuckin’ wild goose chase for so little!” Hog yelled, feeling his frustrations grow even further.  Taking out a cigarette and lighting it, he took a long, satisfying drag and let the nicotine fill his lungs.  He exhaled, the smoke moving into the air around him and he felt immeasurably better, calmer even.  He took another long drag and exhaled again, steadying himself.  Hog knew he needed to get out of there soon, certainly before the Port got going again for the day.  He was unsure, however, if this was all he was meant to find.  He turned around then and looked at the chest; he had felt that as it shut, perhaps there was more this ancient piece could tell him.  “I’ve got to get this fucking thing open again,” he said, eyeing the chest with a sense of growing animosity.  

 

His gut feeling told him that patience and time would help him find a more substantial clue.  He just needed to figure out how to get back into it.  He didn’t need the flashlight now as he could see almost everything around him.  He put it down on the table, but didn’t want to let go of his gun, which he instead tucked into the top of his trousers.  Facing the chest like it was an adversary, he sized it up and felt around with both hands, searching for another button or anything that might make the thing come alive again.  He ran his hands along the top and sides of the chest, treating the giant iron box like a puzzle that needed to be solved in quick time.   He didn’t have the key anymore and the button he had touched previously to open it no longer did anything. Hog felt like he was searching in the dark, even though the morning sun was shining through the windows.

 

He was about to give up when he touched the far right corner of the chest again and suddenly he heard the same whirring sound as before; he stepped back as the chest came to life and the top opened up in two sections, splitting apart and exposing the same shelf where he had found the first envelope.  But this time the shelf rose up and underneath it was a second shelf also covered in red velvet; there Hog saw a small package like the two he had received previously in the mail.  He reached in and pulled out this new clue and like before, as soon as he did this the chest whirred into life again like a live being and then shut up for the last time.  Hog was impressed by the ingenuity and engineering it would take to create such a mechanism, but he was also greatly relieved to be leaving it behind in the warehouse.   Standing in the sunshine of the morning, he looked at the package, wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine. These little boxes already felt too familiar to him.  But this time, he didn’t do a feel or sniff test, but just pulled gently on the twine and then removed the paper to find a cheap white cardboard box.  He looked at it for a few seconds and then lifted the top off and stared at a tiny silver key tied at the top with a silky, red ribbon exactly the same as before.  And underneath this, as he knew to look, was a folded white piece of paper.  He took this out, feeling only curiosity this time and not fear or worry as he had before, and read the following message written in the same strange, foreign hand in which all the messages had come to him.

 

“Nice job, Hog!  I’m glad you found your way here to Warehouse 1.  You’re doing really well;

I’m so proud of you, but now you’re on your way to Oliver’s  grave.  He’s going to be murdered;

you have the power to save him! Remember, there’s always room for improvement.

 

There was no signature.  Who was talking to him?  The voice of the letter writer was confident and cocky, one might go so far as to say perky and upbeat, as if Hog was being interviewed for a job.  “This feels like a fuckin’ test,” Hog grumbled to himself, as he read the words on the page.  The tone was pandering, but he was being given directions as well.  Hog felt numb. Then he felt disbelief, incredible frustration and finally seething anger.  The feelings came over him like tidal waves as he stood there in the bright light of the warehouse.  He took out another cigarette and lit it, dragging the nicotine laced smoke in and exhaling with relief.  A cigarette always steadied him, in the same way that Arms drank whiskey or that Foil slept with women.  This one vice that he allowed himself and freely embraced kept him focused.  He looked around at the dusty floor, the cages lying rusted and strewn where people had left them many months before, and various sized packing cases filled with who knows what piled up against the walls.  Everything was grey and flat on this floor; he felt the oppressiveness of the moment, the message with its cryptic taunt and the threat of saving the life of a man that he did not know the first thing about, or where to find, or how, or even if he was a real person.  The last line was a brazen critique of his detective abilities.  The entire message was ridiculous, offensive, and just plain enraging.  “Jesus Christ, what the fuck have I gotten myself into?” said Hog.  He looked back at the chest, which sat on the table. It appeared entirely innocuous now and hardly worth mentioning when he stepped back and looked at it in the context of the larger space.  He held the new key in his hand, it was smaller than the last one but its bright silver patina shone in the light and the red ribbon felt silky as before.  He thought that this was a key he could easily lose, if he was not careful, it was so small.  And it clearly fit something very different than the large chest in front of him.  He slipped it into the inside breast pocket of his suit jacket and turned to leave.  

 

He still held the message in his hand and now he stopped and read it again.  Then he folded the piece of paper calmly, following the original creases made by someone else’s hand and tucked it away in his breast jacket pocket where it sat with the new key.  He felt a sudden rush that he had to get out of the warehouse and home immediately.  What was it?  A premonition, perhaps?  He didn’t know; he just knew that he needed to be with Laura and see his kids.  It had been a very strange night, indeed.  Picking up his flashlight, touching the pistol still tucked into his trousers, he walked swiftly out of the third floor and made his way down the stairs and out of the warehouse into the bright, early morning sunshine.  The LA port was already in full swing and he was barely noticed as he walked to his car.  He could have been any man on business at the port at that time of day.  Back in his car, he was at home in just under 20 minutes, there was so little traffic on the roads.  Everything was silent; no one was up yet, not even Mandy, who was so used to her master coming in at all hours that she didn’t bother stirring when he opened the door, but the house would be lively soon enough.  In his home he felt distinctly calmer.  This was his sanctuary, a place that was full of love and care, and in which he could leave the world behind him.  Slipping into bed beside Laura, he felt the intense warmth of her body against his.  He reached over to hold her and she nestled into him. There they lay together, she in a dreamy sleep and he, though calm at last, thinking about where he might begin searching for Sergeant Oliver P. Jones.  

Chapter 17

Favors

 

Across town Foil lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling in his usual early morning reverie, thinking about the case at the Convent of Angels.  He did a lot of his best thinking at this hour; it was one of the few times when he was still and silent and could just put two and two together before moving into action and carrying out his plans for the day.  Eva lay beside him, her long dark hair falling away from her round face; she looked young for her age, though she was close to 28.  Foil was committed to his job and to his friends, but not to women.  Being committed to a woman meant permanency and staying still somewhere; buying a house, settling down, having children.  This wasn’t Foil’s path.  He liked the life of constantly moving and the challenges of being a detective.  Women just got in the way; yet he desired the softness and warmth of a woman and so he sought them out continuously in his life.  He found them wherever he could; drifting through the world like himself, they offered a respite from the daily chores of living for one night or two.  He and the woman always separated before there was too much feeling or too much said.  Eva was new, he had met her the night before at the bar down the street, offered to buy her a drink and now he lay in his bed, feeling her body next to him.  He might see her again, he might not.  He made no plans and liked it that way.  She smelled sweet, like hyacinth, a perfume that reminded him of something or someone long ago.  Eva stirred, moving towards his body instinctively and draping her arm across his abdomen.  He let her rest against him, taking his eyes off the ceiling to trace the curve of her body under the sheets and feeling a rising tide of arousal sweep over him.  

 

Later, getting ready to go into the office to meet with Arms and Hog, he watched her again as she dressed silently in a corner of his tiny bedroom, feeling himself disengage.  She would disappear soon enough, though the scent of her hyacinth perfume lingered in his clothes for days and he would always remember her name.  He could remember their names, but not their faces.  Foil didn’t like goodbyes, no matter the person or the circumstance.  Now he pushed some unnecessary money into Eva’s hands, avoiding her blue and questioning eyes, and led her to his front door where he kissed her, and nodded nonchalantly towards the street.  Closing the door, he turned to look at his apartment, a small but tidy space that like so much of Foil’s life served a purpose but contained little personal mementos or memorabilia of his years alive.  Foil reserved his love and devotion for the people in his life who he wanted to protect.  The women who came through his tiny apartment were not those people.  Hog and Arms certainly were, and Alice was definitely someone who he would protect fiercely, and in this moment, he was having misgivings about bringing her into what he felt was a dangerous and unpredictable case.  Alice had said yes to Foil immediately when he asked her to help him with the problems that the Sisters were facing, and even though he told her it might be a frightening situation, she had said she trusted that he would not put her in harm’s way on purpose.  

 

Foil took stock of the day now, as he looked around at his small apartment space.  He had decided that if Alice was going to be involved with a case of his, he needed more protection for her than he would have ever thought about for himself. In this particular instance, he felt that Alice needed someone else, particularly a woman, to contact if she couldn’t reach Foil and he had immediately thought of Mildred.   He had not known of Mildred’s devotion and worry about him when he almost died in FAH’s previous case, but he did feel that Mildred possessed a quick mind, was a woman of good and sound fiber and he knew that he could absolutely count on her for anything. In other words, she was completely trustworthy in Foil’s eyes, and now he picked up the phone and called the Swine’s office, knowing for sure that Mildred would answer, even though it was early in the morning.  He heard her voice sing into the receiver, “Swiiiine’s Deteeeective Aaaagency, Mildred speaking!” That final emphasis on her name, came quickly at the end, and sometimes caught clients off guard, but Foil was so used to this greeting that he didn’t even think twice about it.  “Mildred,” Foil said bluntly, “I need a favor.”  This was quite an unusual call for Foil to make; he never asked anything directly of Mildred.  Sure, he asked for her secretarial services and made requests of her for things to do with cases, but he had never asked her for a personal favor, and Mildred felt her heart swell with pride that Foil would want her for something.  “Yes, sir, what is it?”  Mildred always called the detectives “sir.” She was very professional and courteous with the three men; although she was incredibly devoted and adoring of them, she never let her guard down too much. It was important to the ambiance of the office and to the respectability of the detective agency that she kept her behavior around them professional and courteous.  Yes, she could feed them all the sweets in the world, and she could mother them in her own, simple way, but she always wanted there to be an emotional distance.  And now was no different.  

 

“Mildred,” said Foil again after a pause, with a note of seriousness in his voice, “I need a favor, it has to do with Alice and her protection.” He didn’t want to explain too much to Mildred, but needed to give her some kind of explanation because he had never been this familiar with her before and certainly never asked her for anything personal. Foil felt that this case and Alice’s role in it was highly unusual and this called for even more unusual actions and planning.  “Yes, sir, what can I do for you,” asked Mildred, and added, “and for Alice, sir.” Mildred liked Alice and saw in her a sense of herself, but of course she never said anything about this to anyone.  She had known of Alice’s heroics with Foil; she secretly and silently blessed the young girl’s strength and fortitude in the warehouse, the night that Foil began to hemorrhage and almost died in FAH’s last major case.  Alice was a girl after Mildred’s own heart in that they both would do anything for Foil, they so respected his integrity as a detective and as a man. “The case is a difficult and dangerous one,” he said, “it has to do with the Convent of Angels,” and here he paused to let that sink in, and Mildred picked up the conversation, and said, “yes, sir, I remember the envelope that arrived a week or so ago.” Foil could always count on Mildred to know things that he didn’t want to explain, and here he chimed in with, “yes, of course, you gave me the envelope. Well, that was from my Aunt Eleanor.  You wouldn’t know any of this of course, but she is the Mother Superior at the convent and strange things have been occurring there.  Alice has agreed to help me by living at the convent for a while to be a sort of look out.” Foil trailed off at this point, thinking that even saying the words out loud sounded ridiculous and that surely Mildred would think he was a fool to put a young girl smack dab in the middle of the site of such a puzzling case. But Mildred, ever the pragmatic woman, and certainly one to never question Foil’s detective plans, simply said, “sir?” as she smartly sensed a moment of doubt in Foil’s mind about bringing in Alice to the case, something that he had not done before with a private citizen.  Mildred took charge now, and said with conviction, “I imagine that what you need, sir, is my home telephone number, is that it?  I would be happy to supply it. Clearly this case is an important one to you and Alice needs to be able to contact someone else if she can’t reach you, if there’s trouble,” and here Mildred stopped.  Mildred was an organizer and a doer; Foil needed something from her and she would provide it.  “Yes, yes, of course, Mildred, that’s exactly what I need, thank you, yes, this case is particularly tough, and the young girl needs all the help she can get.”  After providing her home telephone number, Mildred said, “anything else, sir?”  There was just a beat of silence, as Foil seemed to be thinking, and then he said, “no, Mildred, you’re doing a lot in helping me with this favor.  It’s a lot to ask, but I trust you.” For Mildred those last four words meant so much to her, but all she said was, “thank you sir, I am happy to help you and Alice.”

 

Hanging up the phone, Foil focused on what he needed to do next.  The day was moving along and he still had to go pick up Alice, who he had instructed to be ready with a small bag, to take her to the Convent of Angels to meet his Aunt Eleanor and get situated.  He had already spoken to his aunt about this plan with Alice.  “Was it insane to be placing a young girl in the midst of such strange happenings?” Foil thought to himself in that moment, but he had put too many people in motion to stop now.  There had been no more signs of disruption at the convent, no more blood or vandalism, but he felt instinctively that dangerous attacks were on the horizon.  He knew that Alice could find out more on the inside with the women than he could.  As a man, he was already a stranger to the women and outside of their trusting circle; Alice could enter into parts of the convent that he could never dream to see and she could talk to the women in a more personal way than he could ever hope to.  Alice was vital to the success of solving this case, and Foil knew it in his heart; he was grateful for Alice and her help, but he would need to protect her as best he could, though he did have a sense that she might just be able to take care of herself.

 

Chapter 18

Decisions

 

As Foil drove up to the Scorvino’s house in Pasadena, where Alice was living with Bella’s family, he saw her standing on the sidewalk looking very young and small.  Her blonde hair was pulled back in a pony-tail and she was wearing a pink-checked dress, reflecting the fashion of the time.  As soon as she saw Foil, she beamed and waved to him.  He suddenly felt deep misgivings and was almost on the verge of telling her that he didn’t need her after all, but instead he let her get into his car, a cherry red Chevrolet Bel-Air, and whisked her away towards the Convent of Angels.  “Hello Foil! Oh, it’s so nice to see you looking well and healthy!” said Alice, looking at the man who she had helped save and restore to life less than a year ago.  It was good to see Alice again and to feel her familiar youthful joviality next to him.  She was one of the few people he had let into his life and he did not regret this;  he felt only that he shouldn’t be asking so much of her so soon.  As he drove on, she kept their conversation going easily and with a natural grace that Foil took note of like an approving father might with a daughter who he was watching grow up before his very eyes.  Alice had all sorts of things to tell him about the Scorvino family, about Bella and her new life in nursing school, and about Big Sam, though it was clear she knew less about him than anyone else in the family. Foil took in all of this information as they arrived at the Convent of Angels and walked up to the gates.  

 

“Okay, are you ready Alice?  Just let me do all the talking,” said Foil, looking down at her and feeling that she would just follow his lead anyway.  She stood next to him, shifting nervously from one foot to the other and he took in her smallness and her diminutive nature. Ringing the bell at the gate and waiting patiently, Foil was already feeling some trepidation about his plan for Alice. “What am I doing with her here?” he asked himself and was just about to speak, when his Aunt Eleanor appeared at the gate to let them in.  She motioned for them both to enter and when she closed the gate and Foil heard the click of the lock, he felt that there was no turning back now.  The familiar pine scent hit his nose and when he turned there stood his aunt in her full nun’s habit.  “Aunt Eleanor, this is Alice,” and Alice, not quite knowing how to address this important woman, smiled nervously, and said as she made a sort of little curtsy, “very pleased to meet you ma’am.”  Alice’s youthful and sweet gesture immediately made Aunt Eleanor smile kindly. She stepped forward to take Alice’s hand gently in her own.  Alice felt her tension slip away and her nervousness begin to subside. She took an instant liking to Foil’s aunt and even though she was not quite sure what would happen in this strange case that Foil had only told her about so recently, she felt sure that his Aunt Eleanor could be trusted and this made her feel calm and definitely more confident in herself.  

 

“Come with me child, and Seán” and she gestured for Foil and Alice to follow her.  “Seán?” Alice had never heard Foil called by his Christian name before, though of course she knew of its existence.  She was struck for a brief moment by a feeling that perhaps she didn’t know that much about this man she had come to respect and admire so deeply.  But she pushed that feeling aside because she knew in her heart that she could trust Foil and that was all that mattered to her. Alice followed Foil’s aunt down a long corridor and into what was clearly a large office.  Here she stood somewhat awestruck at where she found herself.  She sensed that her whole life was about to change, as she looked around and surveyed the high windows, which let the California sun in with a brightness that surprised her.  For some reason she expected the convent to be a dark and dreary place, but this room, at least, felt soft and warm, “cozy even,” she thought to herself.  Foil sat down in one of two chairs that faced his aunt’s large desk, but Alice was still standing, holding her small case, and looking around her.  “Alice, come sit down. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of time to take in your surroundings later,” said Foil kindly to her, thinking to himself that he was a fool for bringing Alice into who knows what danger to face on her own without him.  

 

For his part, helping his Aunt Eleanor had brought so much of Foil’s own past to the forefront that he felt unusually overwhelmed with emotion every time he visited her at the Convent.  He realized how much he missed their relationship, their closeness from his childhood, and that he had relied on when he was feeling lonely and lost as a young boy.  These feelings came rushing at him every time he saw her.  He had to fight the urge to hug her tight like he had as a child.  But the love and warmth that they shared came bubbling up in his heart and he was always glad to see her. He did not regret being called in on such a troubling and curious case by his Aunt, for it gave him a chance to see her again and he was secretly pleased by this, though he did not show it.  Yet, he was sure Aunt Eleanor knew how he felt. There had always been a connection between the two of them, one that he embraced with an open heart.  

 

And now, he sat in his aunt’s grand office feeling that by bringing Alice into the convent, he was risking so much that had little to do with him.  He would be able to leave, but he would also be walking away from this child, for that was how he sometimes thought of Alice, though she was considered an adult at 18.  When Hog had suggested Alice as the person to help with this very mysterious case, Foil had immediately balked.  But at the same time, he felt that Hog was right about Alice’s dependability; she was very smart, but he thought to himself, “am I asking too much of her now?”  He was not sure and in fact, he was starting to feel that he had made a grave mistake.  Alice sat down next to him and they both looked at Aunt Eleanor.  Foil expected her to address him, but instead she turned to Alice and said, “tell me child, do you understand why you’re here?”  She did not look at Foil in this moment, but kept her eyes on Alice and watched her, sizing her up and considered the importance of the girl’s answer to this simple question.  Aunt Eleanor looked at Alice keenly and waited patiently while Alice composed herself and said, “yes, I understand that I am to help Foil, er, Seán, I mean Mr. Finegan with his case.”  Alice paused and looked over to Foil for approval and he nodded.  “And are you aware of what this case is about?” asked Aunt Eleanor a bit more pointedly this time, still eyeing Alice with interest.  “Yes, ma’am, I am.  Or at least I think I am.  But you see, I trust Foil, er, Mr. Finegan and I know he wouldn’t put me in harm’s way. I trust him and I know that he would always protect me, so I said yes right away because he asked me to help him and I will always help Fo, uh, Mr. Finegan.”  Alice had rushed along with her answer because she felt she had to explain herself, but as she finished her short speech, Foil reached over and patted her hand and said, “that’s alright Alice, you’re doing fine.”  Alice felt herself relax and she leaned back in her chair, feeling that perhaps the worst of this interview was over.  

 

Aunt Eleanor seemed satisfied with Alice’s answers, but she also appeared a bit worried.  At this moment a side door to the office opened and a young woman stepped through who Foil recognized as the same person whom he had met the morning he came to see about the horror of the blood in the vestry. She had given him that interesting clue, the mother of pearl pocket knife.  He still had it, of course, but had not thought much about it.  Seeing Julia Marie again made him aware of all of the loose ends already starting to pile up in this troubling case.  Aunt Eleanor rose and said, “Alice dear, I thank you for your very honest answers to my questions.  I thought you might want to look around the convent with one of our youngest Sisters, she’s about your age and I think you will like her very much. This is Julia Marie.” Aunt Eleanor stepped forward and Alice stood up to follow her.  Julia Marie smiled at Alice warmly and said, “it’s very nice to meet you,” and held out her hand.  Alice took it, but Julia Marie did not make her feel quite comfortable and she didn’t know why.  On the other hand, upon seeing Julia Marie again, Foil felt the same curious attraction to her that he had felt the last time he had met her.  This feeling surprised him, especially since he considered her to be very young.  He and Aunt Eleanor were wrong about her age, but she did not correct their assumptions.  She gestured for Alice to follow her and both girls left the room.

 

Then Aunt Eleanor turned to Foil with a more serious gaze and he knew that this was a moment of reckoning for him.  “Seán, do you really believe that this young girl is the right person to bring to the convent, considering the dangerous circumstances?  When we spoke about this plan, I believed she was a bit older; she’s just a young slip of a girl!  What of her parents, what do they think of her being here?”  Foil sighed, and sat down again.  “She has no parents, aunt, and I’m at a crossroads about her being here.  To answer your question, no I’m not entirely sure that I’ve made the right decision in bringing Alice to the convent or introducing her to such dangers, but I do know that Alice is a reliable and determined young person and that she is very loyal.  Her small stature and diminutive nature are misleading, really.  She is a strong, committed and brave woman.  Let’s not forget that in a moment of abject danger she did kill a man in self-defense.”  Here, Foil stopped talking. He had told his aunt about FAH’s last case and Alice’s involvement.  He was talking his aunt, as well as himself, into leaving Alice at the convent and he knew it.  He needed someone on the inside to help him learn more about the convent and its inhabitants; at the time of their phone call, his aunt had agreed to this venture, but now he could tell that she was having second thoughts and wanted to hear his reasons for putting forth this young girl as his eyes and ears in a place that had so far proven to be a very unstable and even volatile environment.  “There were so many unknowns, did he really want to risk leaving Alice amongst them?” were the thoughts that ran through his mind.  

 

“I have my reservations, Seán,” said his aunt after a moment’s silence between the two of them.  A pause and more silence; “I have my reservations,” she said again and let her tone hang in the air, waiting for him to respond.  “She’ll be back in a few minutes.  I instructed Julia Marie to only show her the small chapel and a few of the common rooms.  A decision must be made about whether she stays or leaves with you.  Think on this Seán and decide what is best with your heart, not your mind or your desires for solving this case.”  Foil felt the heaviness of his aunt’s words and the weight of the decision.  It was no small matter to him that he was bringing Alice into this case in a way that he had never done so before with anybody, let alone a young woman.  “Well, she was a girl, really, wasn’t she?  Only just turned 18 and still so innocent in many ways . . .” and here his thoughts trailed away.  He wrestled with his conscience now and in a moment of returning to his old habits of reverence for his Catholic faith, he closed his eyes as if in prayer and waited for God to guide him to the right answer.  But Foil knew that he had grown beyond God at this point in his life and when he opened his eyes again to seek out his aunt’s direction, she had turned from him and was busying herself with some papers on her desk.  As in the days of his youth, she was letting him decide something very important; Aunt Eleanor had said her piece and now he must make the final decision about the fate of this girl’s life and her foreseeable future.  Foil stood up and walked around the room, taking in the sunshine, the dark wood paneling and the religious figures on the walls.  He did not see a clear path forward; this was not a decision that came to him in a flash, but it had to be made and made in a few moments before Alice returned with Julia Marie.  

 

“What was he waiting for, a sign? A bolt of lightning from the sky?” he wondered.  And then the door opened and he turned and saw Alice walk into the room, looking happy and strong, her vibrant joy filling the space with a radiant light that hadn’t been there before and he knew then and there that she would be fine.  The decision was made.  She would stay.  Aunt Eleanor saw in Foil’s eyes his changed expression as he looked at Alice and she understood instantly that they were moving forward with their original plan.  Alice was to be welcomed in as an aspirant like Julia Marie and begin her time at the Convent of Angels as a young person considering the calling to become a Sister in service of the Church.  She, of course, would really be there to be Foil’s eyes and ears on the inside of this mysterious place.  Even though she had not been very clear to Foil’s aunt, she had been told by Foil, not of the danger, but of the mission and this she would embrace with dutiful loyalty to the man she believed in wholeheartedly.  If she saw or heard anything unusual, she was to make note of it and alert Aunt Eleanor who would call Foil.  Alice had Mildred’s phone number tucked away if there was an emergency and she needed someone trustworthy to speak to besides Foil or his aunt.  Foil felt that everything was falling into place now, but what he had not counted on was Alice’s own sudden realization that he would be leaving her and so soon.  

 

Aunt Eleanor’s astute sensibility of the human heart helped her to recognize Alice’s need to be alone with Foil to say her goodbyes.  “Come, Julia Marie, let us prepare Alice’s room for her,” and the two women stepped through the side door of the office, closing it behind them.  The room was quiet then and Foil looked at Alice expectantly, waiting for her to speak, feeling that he couldn’t find the right words to assure her all would be well. Alice still held her small case as she stood looking at Foil.  She felt that at 18 she should not be letting the tears come so easily, but she couldn’t help herself.  “Why was she crying!” she demanded of herself, but realized that she felt scared and apprehensive at being left behind.  She had said yes to helping Foil and she did not regret her decision.  But he was such a strong, protective presence in her life and now she was going to be alone in a strange place without him.  “Oh, snap out of it, Alice,” she thought to herself as Foil handed her his pocket handkerchief with a sudden concern for her tears.  “I’m just being silly, Foil, I’m okay.  You don’t have to worry about me, I’m going to be fine.  Julia Marie is lovely and your aunt is so kind, she reminded me instantly of you!  I’ll be okay.  I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself!” She paused and looked up into his green eyes, her tears falling down her cheeks despite her best effort to stop crying. He looked down at her, feeling an intense pang of regret at involving her in the case and also of leaving her behind.  Foil knew he needed to leave soon, so he leaned down and kissed her on her warm cheek.  Dropping her case instantly, she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tight and he, her.  It was the closest they had been to each other since they sat together on the warehouse floor all those many months ago, when Foil almost died saving her life.  Letting go of each other, Foil looked to see if Alice’s tears had gone.  He didn’t like lingering goodbyes, but his heart was full and leaving Alice was very difficult for him.  Still, ever the practical man, he knew he would see her again and he soothed himself with this thought.  “I’ll be back very soon Alice, in just a couple of days, to see how you’re doing.  But from this point on you must remember that you and I will not be able to acknowledge one another as friends.  We must act as strangers so no one suspects who you are or what you’re here for.  Only Aunt Eleanor knows and she has taken Julia Marie into her confidence because she knew you needed a friend about your age.”  Foil said all of this quickly to Alice, knowing that their time alone together would soon be over and he would have to walk out the door.  Alice nodded as Foil spoke to her, feeling her heart swell with pride for she knew that he trusted her and she was determined not to lose his trust.  Hearing footsteps in the hallway, Foil looked at Alice one last time, winked at her knowingly, and turned to walk out the door just as his Aunt Eleanor entered her office and said, “Alice, dear, come with me, Julia Marie will show you to your room and get you settled.”  

 

Foil heard these words as he closed the door behind him and walked out to the front gate.  This time he hadn’t waited to say goodbye to his aunt, he had so wanted to leave before he changed his mind about Alice.  He planned to return in about four days, but in fact, he would return sooner than even he imagined, for Alice would discover her first clue in a place that no one ever suspected, her very own room in the convent.  

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