Matchup, p.52
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       MatchUp, p.52
 

          

  to defend the man, it’s only fair that I know from what. It also seems reasonable that I should have some understanding of what Father Price was doing or some idea of who his attacker or attackers might be. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

  Turning her back on Bravo, she walked into Martin Price’s empty cubicle. She returned a moment later carrying two small clear plastic bags, which she handed to Bravo. Inside one was a wooden crucifix, black with dried blood. In the other was the bloodied tip of a hunting arrow.

  “The crucifix was found on his person, clutched in Father Price’s hand. The arrow was in his back,” she said. “By giving these to you, I’m now guilty of concealing evidence of a crime. So how about we declare a peace treaty? What if we decide right now that Father Price is both our responsibilities? In which case I need you to be straight with me, but first let’s go out into the lobby and find somewhere to sit. They’re ready to clean this cubicle, and we’re in the way.”

  IT WASN’T LIKE BRAVO SHAW to concede defeat to anyone, especially to an elderly nun, but there was something fearless about this woman that he could not help but respect. Obligingly he followed her out into the hospital’s main lobby where she led him to a quiet corner seating area.

  “Tell me,” she said, once they were both seated.

  But he was busy examining the crucifix, which he’d removed from the plastic bag. As he turned it over and over in his hands, Sister Anselm said, “What is it?”

  “This is old. Perhaps from the time.” He looked up at her. “It seems possible now that Martin found what he and his team had been sent to find.”

  She cocked her head. “And that would be?”

  He sighed. “We’re a lay order. Part of our mission is locating lost artifacts dating from the earliest days of the Christian church. Once those priceless relics are found and authenticated, we see to it that they are returned to their rightful place. Unfortunately, there are powerful forces both inside and outside the church who would prefer to keep those treasures for their own benefit and profit. Those people have always allied themselves with an organization called the Knights of Saint Clement, named for the pope who branded us heretics.”

  “So you’re supposedly the good guys and the so-called Knights are the bad guys?” she asked. “But if you’re returning the artifacts to the church, what’s the problem?”

  “Unfortunately, not everyone inside the church or even inside the Vatican is trustworthy.”

  “And if the Knights and their friends lay hands on those relics before you do, what happens then?”

  “They usually auction them off to the highest bidder, which is often someone among the most rich and powerful people in the world. And dangerous.”

  “It sounds to me as though you must consider Bishop Gillespie to be on the right side of this conflict, on the side of the angels, as it were.”

  He couldn’t help smiling. “I don’t know the man, but since people I trust in turn trust him, you could say that. At this point, however, it’s important that the good bishop not be drawn into this incident any more than he has been already. He could be in mortal danger, as could you.”

  “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” Anselm bristled, “but you still haven’t told me what Martin Price and his cohorts were searching for. And speaking of his teammates, what about them. Are they even still alive?”

  He shook his head. “I doubt it. The Gnostic Observatines operate either individually or in teams. The same is true for the Knights of Saint Clement. Their teams refer to themselves as extramuros. Believe me, they are utterly ruthless. I can’t imagine how Martin managed to escape their clutches. As for his teammates? I would hazard a guess that they’re both dead and their bodies will never be found.”

  “Which now means we’re interfering with the investigation into three crimes rather than just one?”

  He nodded.

  “And what exactly was Father Price’s team searching for?”

  Knowing he was going all in, he sighed. “What do you know about the Veil of Saint Veronica?”

  The nun’s eyes widened. “The cloth used to wipe the blood and sweat from Jesus’s brow along the Via Dolorosa?”

  “We had reason to believe that centuries ago it was hidden somewhere here in the Arizona high country. Martin and his team were dispatched to search for it. Two weeks into the hunt, Martin texted me that he thought they were getting closer, but he gave me no further details. His last text to me said they were being attacked. After that, he didn’t answer repeated texts and calls.”

  “The phone wasn’t found with him?”

  “No, the elk hunters who brought him to the hospital said he was stark naked when they found him. The only thing he had in his possession was this crucifix.”

  “It sounds to me as if you . . . and I,” she said, “have some serious opponents.”

  He agreed. “The Knights of Saint Clement want the veil as much as we do. In fact, given what’s happened, they may already have it. If not, once Martin awakens, I have no doubt that they’ll stop at nothing in trying to gain its possession. Centuries ago, their original purpose was to eradicate our order, and that is still high on their list. These days, however, their agenda has shifted. They take our operatives out when they can—as they did here, but they are far more focused on grabbing power, which they do through a cabal of corrupt cardinals inside the Vatican.”

  “Then we’ll have to stop them at once, won’t we,” she said, sitting bolt upright. “And I happen to know of someone who could help.”

  “Please,” Bravo said. “No help. I must insist on absolute secrecy. I simply can’t afford to involve anyone else.”

  “Tell me about Father Price’s phone,” she said. “You said that he left you a message just before he was attacked. But you don’t know exactly where he was at the time.”

  “I have the names of the two hunters who brought him to the hospital. I’m hoping that if I speak to them, they’ll be able to give me the general location. The clerk in the ER said something about a place called Mingus Mountain, although I have no idea where that is.”

  “But it may be close to where the attack took place.”

  He nodded. “A good place to start the search.”

  “Except it’s November,” she said. “Did you happen to notice the snow on the ground outside? There’ll be snow on Mingus Mountain, too, and I’ve heard it’s likely that a storm is blowing in from the west. We can’t risk going out searching blind. We need help, but you have to agree to let someone else into our little circle.”

  He was intrigued. “And who might that be?”

  “Ali Reynolds, a close friend I trust absolutely. She and her husband live in Sedona and run a cybersecurity company called High Noon Enterprises that operates out of Cottonwood. If you’d give me Father Price’s phone number, I wouldn’t be surprised that they’d be able to give you the exact coordinates on the phone when it was last in use.”

  “But the phone’s battery is probably dead.”

  “That doesn’t necessarily matter. If it pinged somewhere, they’ll be able to find it. In addition, Ali grew up in this area. Her father was an avid outdoorsman in his day, and Ali tagged along with him wherever he went. She knows the backwoods around here like the back of her hand. I’m sure she’d be able to help.”

  This nun knew a lot about things that nuns don’t usually deal with. But still he had to object.

  “Sister,” he began.

  “Ali has had police training. She’s quite resourceful. And she has Bishop Gillespie’s stamp of approval.”

  “That may well be,” he said. “But, as I said before, I don’t want to endanger anyone else in this endeavor.”

  An audible ding on her iPad announced the arrival of an e-mail. “I’m afraid it’s too late for that.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Did you happen to look at the arrow tip I gave you?”

  He shook his head.

  “If you had, you might have
noticed that it’s stamped with a serial number of some kind. Before I bagged it, I took a photo and sent it to Ali. Turns out it’s from a high-end hunting arrow sold at only a few outlets in the area. The one you’re holding in your hand was sold a week ago at a specialty hunting store in Phoenix that caters specifically to bow hunters. Does this person look like anyone you know?”

  She passed him her iPad. Bravo studied the photo. He said nothing, but the slight stiffening of his jaw spoke volumes.

  “One of those Knights?” she asked.

  “How did you get this?” he asked.

  “As I said before, Ali Reynolds is resourceful. Her people were able to trace the serial number on the arrow tip, the manufacturer came up with the batch number that went to a specific retailer, and the retailer remembered the woman. The way she talked, the arrows she requested, he assumed that she was an expert bow hunter. The owner located the security footage, Ali’s team enhanced it, and there you are. Who is she?”

  “Her name is Maria Elena Donahue. She works with an extramuros team leader named Anson Stone, sometimes referred to as the Archer. She’s one of the only females inside the Knights. She wasn’t worried about being seen purchasing the arrow. It was never supposed to be found.”

  “But Father Price escaped,” Sister Anselm said thoughtfully.

  “Martin is probably one of the best team leaders I’ve ever trained.”

  He stood abruptly.

  “Where are you going?” she asked.

  “I need to go back to the beginning and find the place where the attack took place. If Martin really did find the Veronica, there’s a chance it’s still there.”

  “He was tortured,” she said.

  “Doesn’t matter. He wouldn’t give up the veil no matter what.”

  She frowned. “You’re suggesting that perhaps the veil is still there, but what if the phone is, too? You said that Father Price texted you that he and his team were under attack, and that was the last communication you had from him. What if there was a struggle and the phone somehow disappeared in the course of that? Maybe the Knights didn’t know he had a phone with him and they didn’t bother to look for it.”

  “I know cell-phone companies can track the pings on phones, but getting them to do it is a complicated, time-consuming process, even for cops. And as I said before, we’re not involving cops.”

  “I understand,” she said. “But as I told you earlier, Ali’s company, High Noon Enterprises, is a cybersecurity company. In order to do what they do, they deal in a lot of cyber insecurity. I have every reason to believe that Ali’s people will be able to track Father Price’s phone regardless of where it may be at the moment.”

  He thought about that, but not for long.

  “If Ali Reynolds and her people can find Martin’s phone, she sounds like someone I should have met yesterday.”

  BRAVO DISCOVERED THAT ALI REYNOLDS and her husband, B. Simpson, lived in a large midcentury modern house in Sedona. As he stepped up onto the wisteria-shaded front porch, a tall, fit woman somewhere in her fifties opened the door to welcome and beckon him inside.

  “You must be Father Shaw. I’m Ali,” she said as she escorted him into the house. “My office is this way. I’ve asked the butler to serve coffee.”

  He followed her through a spacious living room and a pair of French doors into a cozy office. The desk in front of the window was littered with files. She motioned him into one of a pair of wingback chairs set in front of a burning gas-log fireplace. He had no more than sat down when a miniature long-haired dachshund leaped into his lap.

  “That’s Bella,” she said with a smile. “That’s also a good sign. She’s pretty picky when it comes to making friends with strangers.”

  “I’m assuming Sister Anselm told you why I’m here?”

  “She did. The Reader’s Digest condensed version, but now that you’re here, maybe you’d like to tell me more.”

  Before he could reply, an older gentleman wearing a suit and tie stepped through the French doors bearing a tray laden with coffee, cups and saucers, sugar and cream, and a plate of gingerbread cookies.

  “Fresh out of the oven,” he said, placing the tray on the coffee table between them.

  “Thank you, Leland.” Reaching toward the carafe, she asked, “Coffee, Father Shaw?”

  “Call me Bravo, please. And yes, coffee is perfect.”

  While Ali poured, he examined his surroundings. The house was impressive in an understated yet elegant way, and the fact that a manservant had delivered the coffee spoke of a certain amount of money. As for the woman seated across from him? Even in jeans and with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, she had a classy, no-nonsense way about her.

  She passed him a brimming cup and saucer, then settled back in her chair. “Sister Anselm filled me in as best she could with the information you provided. Finding your injured associate’s cell phone is something my people can do. However, to be honest, Sister Anselm seems to think it is highly unlikely that the actual veil exists. She says that according to Bishop Gillespie, several items alleged to be the veil have shown up at the Vatican over the centuries and that each in turn has been proven to be a fake.”

  “I don’t believe this one is a fake. Martin sent me a text to that effect just as they came under attack.”

  “You call it an attack, but it was more than that,” she observed. “It was an assault with intent. Martin Price was severely injured and two of his teammates are missing and presumed dead. Sister Anselm mentioned your reasoning against involving local law enforcement.” She hesitated for a beat. “So your contention is that you’re above the rule of law?”

  “Not so much above, as outside. If a local law enforcement agency were to try to lay hands on Anson Stone or one of his team members, they’d forfeit their lives. Believe me, Ms. Reynolds, this is not something you’ve encountered before. And, other than helping locate Martin Price’s cell phone, you’d be well advised to stay out of it now.”

  She set down her coffee. “One thing puzzles me. If you’re a priest, I’m a bit confused about why I’m supposed to address you by your given name.”

  “The Gnostic Observatines are a lay order. Addressing our members as ‘Father’ is unnecessary.” He tossed her a wry smile. “A distinction your Sister Anselm refuses to acknowledge.”

  She nodded, slightly amused. “Yes, that certainly sounds like her.”

  Her phone rang.

  “Excuse me,” she said. “It’s Sister Anselm.” She listened for a moment. “Good,” she said, before turning to Bravo. “She says Martin Price is out of surgery. They’ve removed his spleen and one of his kidneys. He’s in critical condition and has been moved to the ICU.”

  “Please thank her for me. I’m sure Martin will appreciate her tender mercies.”

  She relayed the message. “Yes,” she answered, apparently a question from Sister Anselm. “Stuart has the hospital surveillance in place. And yes, we’ll have eyes and facial rec on all exits and entrances. And yes, if push comes to shove, that’s probably a good plan.”

  She ended the call.

  “What’s a good plan?” he asked.

  “We’ve created a backup security plan at the hospital.”

  “I have additional personnel flying in to Flagstaff even as we speak.”

  “Who may or may not arrive,” she said, “since by all accounts there’s a blizzard on its way. And if you have people showing up to help out, we need to have photos of them. Otherwise, our facial recognition program will have no way to tell good guys from bad guys. Neither will Sister Anselm.”

  He pulled out his phone. “Where should I send them?”

  She gave him an e-mail address for Stuart Ramey. She waited until he’d pressed Send before adding, “If you want us to try locating that phone, you’ll need to send along both Martin’s number and yours.”

  He keyed in more information and sent that off too.

  “Do you really think any of this is going to work?” he aske
d, pocketing his phone. “I only came here at Sister Anselm’s insistence, but the idea of your getting a good result doesn’t seem likely. I’m quite sure Martin would have been using a burner phone for the purposes of this expedition, and all our in-house communications systems are encrypted and supposedly secure.”

  “But what if they’re not?” she asked. “What if your encryption program has somehow been penetrated? Suppose someone managed to gain access to your phone. In that case, the Knights may have learned that Martin had found the veil at the same time you did.”

  Looking troubled, he made as if to rise. “I should go back to the hospital. That way, when Martin comes around, maybe he’ll be able to tell me exactly what happened and where I should look.”

  “My understanding is that the hunters who rescued Martin Price found him on the back side of Mingus Mountain. Going there from here will be a shorter trip than it will be starting from Flagstaff. Besides, if and when Martin recovers enough to speak, Sister Anselm will pass along that information.”

 
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