© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Death is underrated. . . .

Kill or die? That is the question. Live to kill. Kill to die. Surcease of sorrow? Not. Death never kills me.

My soul from out that shadow? Shall death die? Balm in Gilead?

. . .

Chapter One

Reuel removed the bloody, oil-stained latex gloves and stepped back to admire his handiwork. Perfect. He swept his gaze around the sanctuary of St. Matthew’s Cathedral then glanced toward the Chapel of the Holy Angels in a loft to the right. After trading the dirty gloves for a fresh pair from the roll-aboard case, he extracted a fourteen-inch statuette and placed it near his victim’s head. He turned the statuette a few degrees so that it faced the dead man’s heart.

Satisfied, he retrieved his upper clothing from atop the altar, put on a black clerical vest over his blood-stained tee shirt, adjusted the Roman collar in front, donned a black suitcoat over the vest, and placed a black fedora on his head. He paused at the feet of the dead archbishop, made an exaggerated sign of the cross in the air over the corpse, and spoke in a mocking voice. “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.”

He grabbed the suitcase, made a last check for telltale clues, and left the cathedral by the side door he had jimmied hours ago. He departed forty minutes before the scheduled opening for Sunday morning Mass.

. . .

Chapter Two

Pete Sullivan glanced at his smartwatch as he passed the six-mile marker of the Marine Corps Marathon. Nine minutes, thirty-eight seconds per mile. He needed to average nine-minute miles to meet his goal of finishing in four hours or fewer.

Don’t push it. Twenty miles to go. Pick up a few seconds each mile. Save energy for the sprint at the end. Pete opened and closed his hands in sync as he pushed his legs to speed up.

Just a bit faster. . . .

The seven-mile marker heralded the turnaround point about a half-mile ahead on the steepest incline of this segment of the course. He looked forward to several miles of downhill to get his pace closer to that nine-minute mile.

An annoying beep in his ear.


Without breaking stride, Pete pulled his phone from his fanny pack and hit Answer.

“What?” He panted into the phone to emphasize being bothered by the interruption.

A somewhat familiar male voice answered. “Pete Sullivan?”

“Yeah.” More panting.

“Tony Mason, FBI.”

Deflated, Pete breathed into the phone as he continued running, his pace slowing against his will. “What do (pant) you want?”

“You. How soon can you get to St. Matthew’s Cathedral?”

. . .

Chapter Three

Maria Santos felt her attacker’s breath on her hair a second before his hands encircled her throat. Before he could gain purchase and squeeze her carotid arteries, she reached up with both her hands to grab behind the assailant’s thumbs. She flexed her knees as she yanked his hands off her neck and swiveled her hips to her right. She held his left hand in a tight grip over her shoulder as she pivoted, forcing his right hand down from her neck. She took a quick step to her left, released the attacker’s right hand, and used the full swinging momentum of her right arm to smash her open hand into his groin. As he doubled over in immediate pain, her upswinging right elbow smashed his chin. She used his left arm as leverage to pivot and bring her left knee hard against the man’s chest. His torso sprang upward.

As she advanced to deliver more blows with her fists and knees, he stepped back, brought both arms to his side, and bowed.

Maria mirrored his movement.

Beside the dojo mat, Liam Solnitz clapped his hands. “Strong work,” her instructor said. “Could be quicker. Try it again with a larger adversary.” Liam tapped his chest before bowing and stepping onto the mat.

Maria glanced at the three other women and two men in the Krav Maga class. Two women threw her knowing smiles.

Why do I have to be the object of Liam’s boyish crush? It seemed unbecoming for a man nearing fifty; ten years older than her.

. . .

Taking a longer route to avoid where she thought the marathon course
might be, she arrived back at her apartment ten minutes later than planned. When she unlocked the front door, a peculiar sensation washed over her. As if someone was with her. She shook it off. Not the first time her mind tricked her. She dropped her workout bag in her bedroom, threw her gym clothes into the hamper, and headed for the shower.

After the shower, Maria stood in front of the mirror over the sink and
dried her long black hair with a second towel. She reached for her hairbrush, but her fingers closed on nothing. The brush was not in its usual spot on the counter just to the right of the sink. She found it a foot away, nearer the toilet.

“That’s odd,” she said. She always put the brush in the same place. Then she recalled her morning rush to get to her Krav Maga class.

Must have dropped the brush in the rush.

The phone rang in her bedroom. She answered it, holding back her
still-damp hair as she held the phone to her ear.

“Dr. Santos?” Female voice, serious.


“This is Detective Louise Vandermark, Metro Police.”

A chill shot up Maria’s spine. Did I do something I don’t remember? Again?

Her voice quivered. “Okay.”

“I’m lead investigator for a murder that took place this morning at St. Matthew’s Cathedral.”

. . .