Rosaria O’Reilly finds herself in grave danger from those who won’t let go of the past in this thrilling sequel to The Immaculate.
Still recovering from injuries sustained during her last effort in solving a murder, Rosaria is dragged into a new case with ties to the Irish community on both sides of the Atlantic. The victim is an Irish journalism student working on a research paper in Boston. His aunt, a friend of Rosaria’s, reaches out to her for help in solving the case.
This does not go over well with Rosaria’s significant other, Boston Police Detective Solly Belkin, who wants Rosaria to leave the case in his capable hands. Determined to help her friend and assert her independence to Solly, Rosaria travels to Ireland for the funeral and continues her investigation there. Soon, she is caught up in a dark web of ancient grievances, old crimes, and secrets that powerful people are determined to keep hidden forever.
Can Rosaria unearth these buried troubles and solve the murder before the killer buries her instead?
“Long memories link the Irish communities across the Atlantic. Stanley seamlessly weaves together the threads of an old story that still ties Boston and the West of Ireland. Her use of language and small details make the story come alive without distracting the reader’s attention from the poignant plot.” — Sheila Connolly, best-selling author, the County Cork Mysteries
“Stanley never fails to entertain and raises your heart rate in the process.” — Edith Maxwell, Agatha & Macavity nominated author, Turning the Tide
“Rosaria O’Reilly travels from Boston to the wild and majestic west coast of Ireland to help her friend solve her nephew’s murder. Mystery readers will love this as I did!” — Terrie Farley Moran, Agatha & Derringer winning mystery author
The hit came out of nowhere, a terrible, sudden bolt of pain at the back of his head. Gobsmacked. Jesus. What the hell? Patrick hit the cold water hard, the smell of brine and motor oil heavy as he gasped in shock. He went down fast but fought his way up. His head knocked away a couple of empty Bud Lite cans bobbing on the surface. Dazed, his arms flailing, he struggled to keep his head above the water. Mother of God! The pain was savage. He could see a figure up on the wharf watching him. Why wasn’t he helping him? Was it that one smashed him on the head? Where was the guy he was supposed to meet? He needed help here.
Patrick tried to call out. The calls came from his mouth in frantic, hoarse whispers or watery gags. He strained to reach for the wharf pilings; just made it, but the surfaces were so slick that his hands kept slipping. Piece of luck, he found one irregularity in the wood sticking out that he could grasp—if only barely. Maybe enough for him to hang on. Everything was starting to look blurry. A tingling in his head. Had to stay with it. Had to keep his head out of the water. Had to stay with it.
The sound of wood against wood. He looked up to see a long oar hurtling down along the piling. The oar smashed against his hand, withdrew, and smashed it again. Patrick cried out and let go. As he sank, he could see the tall, shadowy figure on the wharf wielding the long oar like a giant dark archangel holding a fearsome staff. Patrick’s kicks were feeble now. He could feel his blood warming the salt water around him. The scratch of the wharf barnacles on his cheek, the smell of seaweed under his chin. It all brought him—on the cusp of oblivion now—back to the cove near his parents’ house in Ballyconneely. A cool, foggy, early summer evening there, heavy with the scent of the sea, his young black and white dog Fergus barking and chasing gulls across the sand and the rocks.
Better get going. Had to get to Clifden within the hour. Wind’s coming up, water’s getting rough and heavy, clouds gathering to the west. Getting darker now. Time to go.
# # #
Rosaria O’Reilly turned a good-sized blackened bluefish on the grill and inhaled the heady scent of Cajun spices mixed with the smells of the harbor. Who could ask for more?
She took outsized pleasure from using her condo’s tiny balcony in warm weather. Jutting over a glittering Boston Harbor, the balcony was one of the many benefits of living in Trinity Wharf, a refurbished granite warehouse on the waterfront.
“I’ll take that glass of wine now,” she called to the kitchen, pushing her silver hair away from her eyes. She ignored Archie, her West Highland White, who sat at her feet with his eyes pleading for just a little bit of that fish.
A few moments later, Rosaria was joined by Marguerite Fontaine. In her professional life Mother Superior of the Jeanne d’Arc order of teaching nuns, this day Marguerite wore jeans and a blue Boston Aquarium whale tee shirt. To Rosaria, Marguerite always looked stylish, no matter what she wore. Rosaria chalked it up to the nun’s French heritage on one side, the other being Mohawk. Marguerite was genetically chic and she had those high cheekbones to boot. It just wasn’t fair.
Now, the nun peered over Rosaria’s shoulder, shooing Archie to the side with a stage-whispered “Petit mediant! Little beggar!”
“That’s a good looking piece of fish,” she said to Rosaria. “Sure you want all that seasoning on it? Might bury the taste.”
Rosaria looked at her with elaborate surprise in her green eyes, brows arched. “And you, a Quebecois. Shocking, Mother Superior.” She pointed to the fish in a dramatic gesture. “This, my dear, is the best of Cajun seasoning. Just the ticket for bluefish. A strong-flavored fish needs something with oomph”—here Rosaria made a fist and punched the air—“to balance it.” She gave the nun another reproving glance. “Honestly, Marguerite. What do they feed you at the Motherhouse?”
“Gruel, dear. Nothing but gruel. No seasoning. I think we let too many Irish women into the order.” Looking at the fish, she handed Rosaria a cold glass of Chardonnay. “Here. This will improve your temper. Well, this fish smells delicious. Point taken.”
“You ever see a full bluefish?” Rosaria asked.
“Never had the pleasure.”
“Ugly. A mouthful of vicious teeth. A school of them in a feeding frenzy is a sight to see. It’d give you nightmares for a week.”
“Well, I’ll be careful to avoid the experience if I can.” The nun took a long look at Rosaria. “Glad to see you looking so well.”
Rosaria nodded thoughtfully and took a sip of her wine. “Yep, feeling pretty good.”
The winter before had been a tumultuous and violent one following the murder of an old nun in Marguerite’s order. Rosaria had gotten involved in the search for answers and had barely survived that fateful winter. Now, she needed every moment of peace and physical recovery she could manage.
Invisible battle scars still kept her awake at night with disturbing dreams. The external battle scars—a broken nose that had healed slightly off-kilter and a damaged right eye—still had her avoiding the bathroom mirror.
The man in Rosaria’s life, Boston Police Detective Solly Belkin, said that the crooked nose and the deep scar above her right eyebrow added a certain quirky and attractive interest to her face. And her hair—he loved her white hair now—a gorgeous color that had appeared almost overnight during that awful winter season. Rosaria appreciated Solly’s gallantry, but personally agreed with another friend, cursed with a terrible candor, who said that she looked like an elderly boxer who’d lost a welterweight bout.
Rosaria shook her head and inhaled a deep breath of ocean air to clear those thoughts away. She took another sip of wine just before the sound of a blues riff from her cellphone on the granite kitchen counter reached the little balcony.
Rosaria handed Marguerite the grill fork and headed for the kitchen, the dog at her heels. “Have to get this. Don’t let that burn. This might be Solly. Hope he doesn’t have to cancel tonight.”
# # #
But it wasn’t Solly. After Rosaria punched the talk button and put the cellphone to her ear, she immediately began drowning in a cascade of disjointed words, sobs and tearful breaths. Rosaria held the phone away and closed her eyes for a few moments before gingerly putting the phone against her ear again, trying to figure out who was on the other end of the call. Through the sobs and broken sentences, she finally recognized that it was Bridie Callahan, an old friend from her hometown of Malford, now incoherent with despair for some reason.
“Bridie—is that you? What’s wrong? Slow down. Take a deep breath.”
Concentrating hard, Rosaria tried to listen again to the furious torrent of words and sobs, before she gave up. “I still can’t understand you. Are you downstairs? Okay. Just calm down. Give the phone to George.”
There was a fumbling at the other end of the line. Then, Rosaria heard the deep voice of the building’s security guard.
“Hi George, it’s okay,” Rosaria said. “Let her up. Something’s wrong. I’ll take care of her.”
# # #
Rosaria opened the door to a disheveled and sobbing Bridie Callahan, her storm of black hair loose and wild about her face, red and swollen with tears. From behind Rosaria, Archie charged Bridie with a frenzy of greeting, adding to the confusion until Rosaria pushed him away. She wrapped the younger woman in a hug. “Bridie, Bridie.”
“Oh, my God.” Bridie wiped her face with the palm of her hand. “Ro, oh my God.”
“What’s wrong?” She turned Bridie’s face to hers.
Bridie couldn’t talk for a few moments. Then, she choked out, “It’s my sister’s boy. The one from home you were helping with his project.” Bridie stopped and stared at Rosaria in disbelief. “Padraig’s dead. They found him in the water last night.” She looked away. “Padraig’s dead.”
For a moment, Rosaria was confused. Bridie was using one of the Irish forms of Patrick—Padraig, pronouced Paw-drig, for her young nephew.
When she understood, she leaned her head against Bridie’s. “Jesus, Bridie. I’m so sorry.” Rosaria had never heard Bridie’s Irish accent as heavy as it was tonight, the situation made worse as she began sobbing again and now hiccupping.
“What happened?” Rosaria asked, leading Bridie to a nearby couch. Exhausted, the young woman dropped heavily down onto the cushions and threw her head back. Rosaria slipped onto the couch beside her and Archie jumped up on the other side to join Bridie. Rosaria was about to push him down when she saw him wiggle close beside Bridie, pressing his body against her thigh and laying his head on her knee. Instinctively, Bridie reached down to stroke the little dog and she seemed to calm slightly.
Good dog. Good dog, thought Rosaria. They just know.
Bridie responded to Rosaria’s question, her voice still shaking and interrupted by frequent hiccups. “They found him off the Long Wharf. They said he was probably drinking and fell in and drowned.” She paused and gave a fierce shake of her head. “Ro, that couldn’t have happened. Patrick doesn’t drink like that. He never takes more than a pint of an evening.”
“Did you see the body, Bridie? You’re sure it’s Patrick?”
“Yes, yes. I saw him.” Bridie put her face in her hands before looking up again. “It was him.”
“Oh, Bridie, Bridie.” Rosaria reached over to stroke Bridie’s arm. “You didn’t go to identify him by yourself, did you?”
“I did. I was just at Assembly Square, picking up a few things when they called me. They found his Irish passport and a visitor visa on him. He had used my address and my cell as a local contact.” Bridie rubbed the side of her face with her hand. “Jesus, Ro, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t reach anybody. I tried you.”
Rosaria remembered with remorse now that she’d left her phone on the kitchen counter. They took only Marguerite’s when they hired a small sailboat to explore the harbor islands that afternoon. “So,” Bridie continued, “I took a cab over to that place. The morgue. And afterward, I just came here. ”
“I’m glad you did,” Rosaria said, feeling now her own frisson of shock and sadness at young Patrick Keenan’s death.
Marguerite, who’d been standing quietly to the side, set a box of Kleenex and a glass of water on the coffee table in front of Bridie. “Drink some, Bridie. It will help,” she said.
Bridie nodded. Her hand shook as, still hiccupping, she raised the glass to her lips. She looked up, noticing Marguerite for the first time. “Mother Superior? I didn’t recognize you.”
“In my civvies today, dear.”
Bridie gave Marguerite a trembling smile before heaving a wet sigh and turning to face Rosaria. “I don’t think he fell, Rosaria.”
“I told you,” she said impatiently, rubbing the side of her face. “Patrick never drank that much. It just sounds convenient for them to say that’s what happened when you have a young man, especially a young Irish man, out on the town.”
“But it happens, Bridie, sad to say. It doesn’t take much. A couple of drinks and a little stumble on the wharf.” Rosaria concerned eyes met Bridie’s. “It’s tragic, but it happens.”
“No, Ro, no. When I saw him at that place. At the morgue.” She stopped and covered her face again for a moment before dropping her hands. “I saw him. Oh, it was awful. He was all beat up. He had a terrible gash on his head.” She reached her hand to the side of her head toward the back to show the spot. “They said it was only because he’d been banging around under the wharf for a while.”
Now, Bridie put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Patrick banging around under the wharf . . .” Her voice tailed off in a low moan.
Rosaria let a few moments pass before asking, “Did you tell your sister yet?”
Bridie took a deep, wet breath and nodded. “I did. I did. She’s destroyed. We’re both destroyed.” She stared into the distance, wiping her eyes. “So hard to believe. He was so much fun and such a bright boy. Maybe too bright sometimes. He was the package, wasn’t he?”
Rosaria smiled and nodded.
“Oh, a wonderful boy, though I grant you that he could be full of himself,” Bridie continued, patting the dog at her side with long, slow strokes. “You know how, when he had something in his mind, he’d keep going—dead set. But just young, you know. A good boy, just young.”
“Right—a good kid, and he did have a head of steam on him sometimes,” Rosaria said. “Not always a bad thing.” She was relieved to see Bridie’s blue eyes soften, and the hiccups seemed to have gone away. Maybe being with friends, maybe the talk, maybe the dog.
“Oh, he did, didn’t he?” Bridie said. “God, he was just burning with that study thing you were helping him on.” She turned to Rosaria, “but for the life of me I could never figure out what it was really about, could you? It seemed to change every time I talked to him.”
“Well, maybe he was trying to figure it out as he learned more. That’s sometimes how a project goes,” Rosaria responded.
“Yes,” Bridie said. “Well, it doesn’t really matter now does it?” She dropped back on the couch and closed her eyes.
Rosaria put a comforting hand on Bridie’s arm. She remembered how circumspect Patrick had been when she’d tried to help him with contacts for his independent research project at the National University at Galway. He’d remained coy about the shifting focus of the work, almost as if she were another student or an academic plotting to steal his idea for a thesis. As if, she thought. Ridiculous. Now, he was dead. Heartbreaking. She shook her head sadly.
“They’ll probably need to do an autopsy.” she said to Bridie.
“I don’t know. Maybe we have to request one. I don’t know anything about all this, Ro. I don’t know what to do, what to ask for.”
Bridie stopped and thought for a moment. Almost as if talking to herself, she continued, “I don’t think he fell.” She shook her head slowly, “No, he didn’t fall. Patrick didn’t fall.”
Then, she faced Rosaria again, a plea in her eyes. “I thought maybe you and your friend Solly could help me. Maybe you could give him a call. See what’s going on, what we should do and all. And just tell them, just tell them this was no accident. We have to…”
We? Did she say we? Rosaria caught her breath. Just healing from a bad, rough time and now this on my doorstep so soon. She glanced at Marguerite who was leaning, arms crossed, against the kitchen counter. Marguerite shook her head and closed her eyes briefly before shrugging her shoulders in sympathy. What can you do? What can you do?
She had to manage this, nip it in the bud. She had to say no. She wanted to help Bridie with the initial contact, but she didn’t think she could handle more than that.
Too many emotions swept through in these few moments after a distraught Bridie asked her for help, including a sudden wave of fury. Jesus Christ, how could Bridie have forgotten what I’ve just been through? Everyone thinks I’m so strong. I’m not. Dammit, I’m not.
But it passed. It always passed.
In the end, without looking at Marguerite, Rosaria put her arm around Bridie’s shoulder, pulled her close, kissed the top of her head and said, “Of course, honey, I’ll call Solly. We can find out what the next steps are. Don’t worry.”