With their congregation dwindling and their world literally falling in around them, Father Robert Vickers and his colorful staff members and volunteers put their heads together to solve the mystery of the anonymous ashes and find the means to save Grace Church from the developers … all in time for the Bishop’s visit.
The obstacle, once unearthed, proved to be the size and shape of a wine crate. It was a wine crate, Robert Vickers realized. As a matter of fact, he told Raymond, the security officer, it was the same type of crate that held the sweet wine used by Grace Church for communion services. The top looked to have been removed and then crudely re-nailed.
“Good job, Henry! Now go to the tool closet and bring back a crowbar,” he ordered.
While they were waiting, the priest noticed that the number of food bank clients and other spectators had swelled and were spilling into the street. A man in a turban jostled against another sporting a suit and fedora. A woman wearing a long navy blue dress and veil was offering her potatoes to a Hawaiian-shirted fellow in exchange for his rice.
The babble of many languages rose on the rainy breeze, lending the scene the air of a modern-day Pentecost. All that was missing was the dove, although there were plenty of pigeons underfoot, hoping for a handout. Robert was not surprised to see the tall figure of Clare, known to all as the Pigeon Lady, among the crowd, swathed head to foot in a hooded brown robe.
Wherever she went, the pigeons followed, even though the Health Officer had persuaded her to stop feeding them. Robert also spotted Marjory, Clare’s caretaker, standing nearby and shaking her head as if to say, “What can I do?” Clare’s arms were outstretched, as if to bless them all, bird and human alike.
A baby-blue police cruiser poked its way up the street through the crowd. The vehicle stopped midstream, and then its door pushed open against the surrounding bodies. A curly blonde head and blue-clad torso emerged and loomed over the crowd. The patrol officer waded toward Raymond and Father Vickers, using her broad shoulders to part the waters. Once on the other side, she eyed the pile of dirt, the hole in the ground and the split box, and asked Raymond, “Well, well, Officer Chen. Got funeral duty today?”
“Very funny, Officer Hitchcock,” he replied, brown eyes meeting her baby blues. “What I’ve got is a big mess. Father Vickers here was trying to bury some remains when the gravedigger ran into this box.”
Joyce Hitchcock glanced around the garden area. “This doesn’t look like a graveyard to me.”
Robert intervened. “It’s a memorial garden, officer, consecrated for the purpose of interring the ashes of the deceased of this church. It’s—oh, it doesn’t matter—I want to find out what’s inside this box. We were just getting ready to open it.”
“But what if there’s a body inside?” croaked Henry the sexton, crowbar at the ready. Realizing from the quizzical looks he was receiving that a wine box wasn’t quite large enough for this purpose, he amended his question in a more forceful tone, “Well, what if there’s a body part inside?”