The August sunlight made Mary's eyes come alive in a sparkling azure blue. Her face warmly glowed with a soft, golden grace. She had the look of pure, sweet innocence as she sat there before me, gazing down upon me in beams of light.
Only my godly grandmother might ever consider me a religious man, but as I stood before that stained glass window, in the early hours of a Boston morning, I confess I felt a moment of holy Light within me.
The Church of the Saint Francis could do that to a soul, maybe even more so to a sinner's soul than it ever could to a saint's soul, especially a self-determined, self-righteous saint. The lights and shadows that dappled this sea of empty pews, the massive columns that held up high, so very high, the starry ceiling with its hand-carved angels that crowned the mighty walls of stone and glass, they were all designed to snatch away your human breath and replace it with the breath of God. And the breath of God in this place smelled like centuries of candle smoke and the musty smell of time.
"Lieutenant Mackenzie," a young voice called. And that being me, Lieutenant Ian MacKenzie, Homicide, Boston PD, I turned to face the voice.
"Yes, I'm MacKenzie."
Walking toward me down that long center aisle was a young, athletic looking priest, his long black frock the only evidence that this guy was a holy man. As he neared he reached out his hand, "Sir, I'm Father Kelly, the administrator of Saint Francis parish. The officer in the Gardens sent me to tell that the Coroner has arrived."
"Thank you, Father. Have the rest of the priests and staff been told?"
"Most have, sir. We do have one or two of the resident brothers who are off on missions, and several of the Sisters had already left on the bus to take them over to the school."
"How are they taking the news?"
"Oh, they're shocked, some are crying, some are scared, almost all are praying.'
The Gardens were just outside the eastern wall of the Church, through an exquisitely crafted pair of dark wood doors that were graced with eight panes of bulls-eye glass. When we opened those old doors, the rude reality of urban Boston smacked us in the face. Instead of the hush of holy quiet, we were in the noisy world of morning traffic on Tremont Street; instead of the scent of candle wax, the fumes of car exhaust. Even the morning sunlight had a different feel outside the church, the light felt younger and much newer out here in the Garden.
"Mac, helluva a way to start a week." Doc Brewster, our medical examiner and resident connoisseur of Wild Turkey whiskey, was kneeling beside the body hidden among a cluster of white gardenias in full bloom and in almost sickly full fragrance.
The black, tall wrought iron fence that enclosed this tidy little garden was lined with onlookers gawking in. Three officers tried their best to act as a screen to keep their eyes off the victim, but their task was nearly impossible to accomplish successfully.
"Doc, how did the Archbishop meet his end?"
"I didn't find any wounds on him. My first thought was heart attack, but now I'm thinking it might be poisoning. You really can't tell until you do the blood work, but just his color makes me think that the Holy Father's trip to heaven was put on the fast track."
I could feel the shadow of Father Kelly and an elderly nun standing behind me. "Is there any way we can help, Lieutenant," the young priest asked.
"Simply keep folks as far away as possible," I answered. Then I heard the nun break down into sobs.
"Sister Anne, please." With that, the priest had something to do. He would walk the grieving sister into the chapel and give her some comfort.
"Your crew's here." Across the grass came two fellas in white jackets guiding the wheeled stretcher over to us. They were struggling a bit, the wheels not designed for bumpy turf.
"Mac, check with me a little before noon. It just may be a heart attack, but ... well, I don't know yet. I just don't know."
All that remained once the body was removed were the garden snips and a flat straw basket holding two cut gardenia blossoms and three more spilled on the grass. As far as evidence goes, this wasn't much but I still told the forensics guy to bag it all anyway. You never know. And in this case, that proved to be very, very true.