Authors: Aimée and David Thurlo
PRAISE FOR AIMÉE AND DAVID THURLO’S
“Polished, suspenseful prose. For those who like their sweets and savories in the same dish.”
PREY FOR A MIRACLE
“A richly textured world… you’ll believe!”
Agatha Award-winning author of
All Mortal Flesh
“Sister Agatha is sure to delight readers… with her winsome ways and no-nonsense faith.”
THIEF IN RETREAT
“A divine second outing.”
“Sister Agatha… may make you a believer.”
“Enough twists and turns and ghosts to keep it fresh.”
—New Orleans Times-Picayune
“Thief in Retreat
entertains and surprises as Aimée and David Thurlo bring an original new voice to the ranks of amateur sleuths. I grew up with nuns and none of them were as much fun as Sister Agatha. This book is a treat.”
Jingle Bell Bark
“Thief in Retreat
is a thoroughly absorbing, sharply drawn story with a protagonist who is courageous, intelligent and endearing.”
“The Thurlos write with the same grace, savvy, and sense of place that make the Ella Clah mysteries so absorbing.”
“Fascinating… [a] thoughtful mystery novel.”
—Dallas Morning News
“Sister Agatha is… one of the most original and interesting characters in the mystery field today… I look forward to [her] next adventure with much anticipation. Until then, I’ll have to comfort myself with thinking holy thoughts.”
Shamus Award–winning author of
“You have to read
and meet Sister Agatha. She loves being herself—logical, witty, sometimes a bit stubborn, but always willing to take a risk and try again… Oh, yes, she solves her first mystery, too.”
—Joan Wester Anderson,
bestselling author of
Where Angels Walk
“If there was ever a nun born to raise hell, it’s Sister Agatha. Let’s hope that [she] returns soon—this is one nun who could become habit-forming.”
executive producer of
THE SISTER AGATHA SERIES
Thief in Retreat
Prey for a Miracle
THE ELLA CLAH SERIES
AIMÉE AND DAVID THURLO
St. Martin’s Paperbacks
If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2007 by Aimée and David Thurlo.
All rights reserved.
For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
Library of Congress Catalog Number: 2007016655
Printed in the United States of America
St. Martin’s Press hardcover edition / October 2007
St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / December 2008
St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press,
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To Keith. Thanks for believing in us and our Sister Agatha.
And to my sister Silvia Rodriguez and all the Sacred Heart gagas for making me an honorary member.
With special thanks to Michael Rissman and Jim Williams for sharing their computer expertise with us. If we made any mistakes, guys, it’s our fault, not yours.
And to Diane and Phillip Uzdawinis, who are always on call and ready to help. We couldn’t do it without you!
T WAS A BEAUTIFUL, SUNNY NEW MEXICO MORNING,
and Sister Agatha unlocked the parlor doors in preparation for the new day. Standing on the front step, she gazed back at Our Lady of Hope Monastery. Though it was scarcely grand, she liked to think of the reconverted adobe farmhouse with its new bell tower as God’s fortress in a world increasingly determined to forget Him.
Inside, the sisters lived and prayed in quiet seclusion. That blessed stillness, almost always absent on the outside, defined their monastery and became an ever-present companion that drew them closer to the One they served.
Contrary to what some people believed, the locks on the doors and the grille that separated the cloistered sisters from the world weren’t there to keep anyone in. They were a line of defense meant to keep the secular world out.
Soon Sister Bernarda, who’d asked for a few moments
alone in chapel again this morning, came into the parlor. Sister Agatha hurried inside, worried about her. She could tell Sister Bernarda had been crying.
“Are you all right?” Sister Agatha asked gently.
“Of course,” she answered briskly. “I’m ready to take over as portress. You have other pressing business.”
As soon as Sister Bernarda took a seat behind the old oak desk, the phone rang. Externs like Sister Bernarda, Sister Agatha, and Sister de Lourdes were not bound by a vow of enclosure. They were a vital link between the monastery and the world.
Knowing her fellow extern was not ready to talk about whatever was troubling her, Sister Agatha left her to her work and hurried down the hall. When she arrived at the scriptorium, Sister de Lourdes was working at the server—the main computer.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Sister de Lourdes said with a grim smile. “I’ve done everything I know to get the computer to work right, but the hacker really messed things up for us this time.”
“You’d mentioned that last night at recreation, but then the bells for Compline rang and the Great Silence began,” Sister Agatha said. She’d been dying of curiosity since then, but the Great Silence couldn’t be broken except in a grave emergency. “You’d said something about letters?”
Sister de Lourdes nodded. “We’ve received two very disturbing e-mails—one yesterday, another just a few minutes ago. They’re both signed by someone named Wilder.”
“First or last name?”
“I’m not sure,” Sister de Lourdes answered, handing her a copy of each. “But the messages both originate locally, according to the ISP address.”
Sister Agatha read the short notes. The first said, “War means casualties. I can deal. Can you?” The next was just as cryptic. “I’m watching you!” Below the signature of that second note was an emoticon stick figure depicting someone looking over a wall.
“He’s certainly no poet … or artist,” Sister Agatha said. “But the viruses he keeps sending are going to create major problems for us with NexCen Corporation. We’ve got to put a stop to this. Our work for them is about the only thing that’s keeping our monastery from going completely broke right now.”
“Each virus has been worse than the last,” Sister de Lourdes said. “He’s stepping up the game.”
“We can’t disappoint NexCen. There are very few jobs like this one that won’t interfere with our schedule of work and prayer. Taking computer orders is something we can do at our own time. But if we keep having problems we can’t fix ourselves, NexCen will think we’re unreliable and turn the work to someone else.”
“God won’t let us lose this job. The monastery needs rewiring, and we’re in a financial hole. At least the dedicated lines protect the computers. If only we could get rid of this hacker!” Sister de Lourdes said. “The NexCen representative is coming over soon—a woman. She’s been given permission to come into the scriptorium to check the software and computers so we can be up and running again soon. I’ll see if there’s anything she could teach me so we won’t have to keep calling them.”
“When’s she supposed to be here?” Sister Agatha asked.
“She should be arriving anytime.” Hearing the clapper, a manual device that resembled castanets, Sister de Lourdes smiled. “Sister Bernarda’s calling, so I bet our guest has arrived.”
“I’ll go,” Sister Agatha said.
As she entered the parlor, Sister Agatha nodded to Sister Bernarda, who promptly introduced her to their visitor. “Sister Agatha, this is Merilee Brown, NexCen’s senior computer technician.”
“I prefer ‘head geek,’ ” Merilee said with an easy smile.
The young woman, a brunette barely in her twenties, was wearing jeans and a loose-fitting green cotton sweater. She wore little or no makeup, and her hair hung loosely in a pageboy style that brushed the top of her shoulders.
“I’ll escort you to our scriptorium,” Sister Agatha said. “Please remain silent while we’re walking through the cloister. Once we’re inside the scriptorium and the door is closed, you can speak freely.”
Merilee gave Sister Agatha an uneasy, wide-eyed look and nodded. “Okay. Got it.”
Sister Agatha gave her a sympathetic smile. “Silence makes continual prayer easier.”
Merilee nodded somberly. “I understand.”
Sister Agatha led the way and, after they’d both entered the scriptorium, closed the door. “May I get you something to drink? We have coffee, but I personally recommend the tea. It’s our own special blend.”
Merilee shook her head, her gaze already on the computer screen. “Thanks, but no, I’m eager to get started. Your problem intrigued me.”
Sister de Lourdes introduced herself. “The second I hit a key, I got a blue screen and a message in a gray box telling me to hit alt, control, and delete all at once, and restart. But when I did that, it just repeated the cycle all over again.”
“Let me give it a try,” Merilee said.
Sister Agatha and Sister de Lourdes watched as she repeated the process, then sat back and stared at the blue screen
and error message. “Either your startup files are corrupted or you’ve got a virus. I can get around this with a special boot disk, but debugging might take some time,” she said slowly, reaching into a small briefcase and bringing out a set of CDs. “If that doesn’t work, I may have to reinstall all the software, including your operating system. That means you’re going to lose everything that’s stored on your hard drive, so I suggest you back up all of your data files once I find a way around this error message.”
Once Merilee got into the system with the emergency boot disk, the two nuns worked quickly and efficiently, selecting every data file and then saving it to a separate DVD. Within a half hour they were done. Then, just as Merilee took their place at the keyboard, the lights in the room began to flicker.
“Do you have battery backups in place?” Merilee asked, her gaze never leaving the screen.
“Yes,” Sister Agatha said. “Power to the computers is maintained even if we have a blackout.” Just as she spoke, the lights came back up. “Ah there, it’s all back to normal,” she said with a lot more confidence than she actually felt.
As Merilee began to work, Sister Agatha left her in Sister de Lourdes’ care and hurried down the hall. She had a meeting with Reverend Mother this morning. On her way she saw Sister Bernarda in the hallway inspecting the wall outlets.