When professor and college chaplain Olympia Brown discovers that one of her freshman is being recruited by a shadowy religious cult, she and a priest colleague join forces to infiltrate the group and rescue the girl before she becomes another victim of their deadly mission.
A menacing tangle of religious hypocrisy and the dark side of human nature reveals itself as Olympia and Jim risk their lives to uncover murder, illicit sex and embezzlement. Assisted by Olympia’s house-ghost, the spectral Miss Winslow, they race the clock to expose the cult’s bloody underbelly before they kill again.
“This is a collect call from Bethany Ruth McAllister, will you accept charges?”
“Oh, my God—yes!” Olympia waved her arms frantically and pointed at Frederick to pick up the extension. “Are you all right? Where are you?”
“Professor Brown? You don’t know me. I live at the Fellowship Center with Bethany Ruth. My name is Sarah—we’re in danger and I need your help.”
“Olympia was instantly on guard. “Who are you? I told you people I wasn’t going to have any more contact with her. What do you want?”
“I know what you must be thinking, but please, hear me out, and then decide.”
“I’m listening,” Olympia was tapping her foot and wishing she were recording the call.
Sarah took a deep breath “I’m a member of the Fellowship and I’m getting out …and I want to take Bethany Ruth with me. She trusts you. She helped me find your number—may I continue?”
“How do I know this isn’t another attempt to scare me off?” Olympia was trying to remain calm, but began pacing around the big old kitchen—the wide planks of the floor creaking beneath her feet.
“You don’t know,” said Sarah, “I can only beg you to listen and then decide for yourself. You’re the only person who might believe me and be willing to help.”
Olympia couldn’t see Sarah’s trembling hands or the tears of relief that were squeezing themselves out of her eyes and freezing on her eyelashes. But she could hear the quaver of desperation in the young woman’s voice.
“I’m going to have my friend, Frederick, listen on the extension—and if you are who you say you are, he’ll be helping me, and if not, I have a witness.”
“That’s fine…anything,” begged Sarah. “I’ve uncovered some ugly information about this operation and I plan to go public with everything if I can get away. I’m in a pay phone in Cambridge, so I can talk, but not for long.”
“I’m listening,” said Olympia.
“When I get out, I’ll have names and places, even offshore bank account numbers. Do you believe me now? This organization is totally evil, Professor, it’s all about money and power. I have proof.”
In the great room, Frederick dug a pencil out of Olympia’s stuff-basket and was writing as fast as he could.
“We have to go to the police, maybe even a television station or the newspapers, these people are so bad.” Sarah paused, catching her breath. “Professor, I’m the one who left the tea bag in your office and I’m so sorry; I didn’t know what it was.”
“I believe you Sarah—tell me how we can help.”
Frederick, listening on the extension, spoke into the phone, “Hello Sarah, I’m Frederick. I’m a good friend of Olympia’s. I’m part of the team.”
Sarah took a breath. “Hello and thank you. I don’t have a plan yet. I wanted to talk to you first. I need someone on the outside we can depend on.”
“We’re here,” said Olympia.
“Right now, I think the best thing, if Bethany Ruth will come, would be to make the break when I go out on one of my food runs. I’ll drive somewhere south of Boston, you two meet us somewhere and we go to straight to the police.”
“May I speak,” asked Frederick?
“Oh please,” said Sarah.
“If Bethany Ruth goes with you and they start searching, it’s likely that Olympia’s house might be the first place they look. So, perhaps if you drive in the opposite direction, north instead of south, then find a pay phone and tell them you’ve had a break down. That way you’ll buy yourself some time before they suspect anything. Look up the name and number of a repair shop somewhere and say you’ll be at that number. Then drive even further north and we meet you where you tell us to.”
“That’s brilliant,” Sarah was breathing an audible sigh of relief. “Probably the day after tomorrow. We’re supposed to be going around to restaurants and hotels to get their leftover food. No one will question me; I do it all the time. I just hope I can get Bethany Ruth to come with me.”
“That’s two days time,” said Frederick, “not counting today.”
“We should be home all day tomorrow,” said Olympia. “Once you know exactly when and where you’re going, call us.
We’ll be there when you arrive. If for some reason we don’t answer, leave a message.”
“Be careful, Sarah,” said Frederick. “You’re in very dangerous waters.”
“I can swim,” she answered. “I’ve been swimming against the tide all my life. I know how these people work…but I also know I get only one chance.”
“Sarah,” said Olympia, “tell Bethany Ruth you’ve talked to me and that I’m going to help you. That might convince her.”
“I can’t leave her there, Professor, she’s so…”
Olympia heard the catch in Sarah’s voice.
“I’ll pray for you Sarah. Call us as soon as you can.” Olympia hung up the phone and waited for Frederick to come back into the kitchen.
“Well, my dear sweet Englishman, my ancillary knight on a dingy charger, it looks like we call Father Jim first…and then the police.”
“One step at a time, good lady.” Frederick cast a warning glance at Olympia. “If these Fellowship people catch the slightest hint of this, Sarah and your Bethany Ruth will be in grave danger. And another thing, what about your college Dean? Shouldn’t he be told?”
Olympia shook her head.
“That man’s been keeping me at arm’s length since all of this started. Frankly, I don’t feel like dealing with him and his blasted ego when we’re this close to getting somewhere. Besides, he might take it into his head to jump the gun. He’d do it if he got half a chance—then claim victory for himself and fire me for breaking rank. How conveniently win-win for him. But, you do have a point…let me think about it.”
Olympia turned and headed for the makeshift office she’d set up in the sunny south corner of her bedroom. “I’m going to call Jim. Do you mind feeding the cats?”
When Olympia returned she told Frederick that Jim was elated to hear about Sarah’s call and that it might just the break they’d been looking for—and now, they could talk to the police. He said that if Sarah and Bethany Ruth were able to pull this off there was a finally chance of exposing these people. Jim also suggested they get in touch with Malcolm and see if he’d developed the photographs of the graffiti on his car and if so, Jim would go and pick them up.
In the meantime, she and Frederick should drive up to the rectory. That way the three of them could go over the facts before they called the police. They could also look at the photographs and see if there was any similarity to the handwriting on Malcolm’s car with the note found in Olympia’s office. Jim said that one was a long shot, but either way it would be one more piece of evidence they could present to the police.
When she had finished relating all of this, Olympia looked at Frederick and said, “Looks like we’re going to Boston, or more specifically, an austere room in a hard scrabble Irish Catholic parish in Dorchester. Do you need to use the bathroom before we go?”
“Matter of fact I do, mummy,” laughed Frederick. “Gosh, how have I managed without you all my life?”
“Can’t help it,” said Olympia, pulling on her coat. “Once a mother, always a mother.”
With a daughter you don’t know about…yet..
“I’m not looking for a mother,” said Frederick.
Olympia waited by the front door thinking about the rapid turn of events. If Sarah’s escape plan was successful, God only knew what they’d uncover.
She would not allow herself to think of the consequences if it wasn’t.