Rev. Olympia Brown is serving as a chaplain in a Boston hospital when she finds a colleague in a compromising situation involving a patient. Things rapidly move from uncomfortable to unsafe, and Olympia ends up running for her life. Even Father Jim, her partner in sleuthing, and Frederick, Olympia’s lovable Englishman, can’t protect her from a murderous psychopath with an unholy mission.
November 3, 1861
It is already November and this most eventful year is almost to its end. The days are short and the nights are dark and cold…and I am taking a bold step forward…but more of that anon.
My little Jonathan is pulling himself up to standing now. Once he is upright he turns and looks at me and then collapses to the floor in a fit of giggles only to do it all over again. He is a sturdy little fellow, but slight of build, not unlike his father—but I must not think of him – now or ever. Here my private thoughts and words are safe.
When I have filled these pages I shall wrap this book in a square of good fine linen and hide it away—as I have the others. One day, it might be that someone I will never know will read these words and know me, not as a sinner, but as a woman who would not be shamed nor give in to despair.
When I think that he is old enough to understand, I will tell my son the truth of who he is and how he came to be. I cannot predict what he will think of me with that disclosure. This is a curious and most unfair world. I can only pray that my son will not be stained with his mother’s fall from grace. This would not be so were I born a man.
Alas, I’ve let myself become too serious, and that will never do. We all have our secrets. I made my choices, and I am living with them. Jonathan is a very precious gift. He will know that, as well. I count my blessings that he is fit and healthy. There are far too many headstones in the church graveyard of those poor dear little ones who did not survive that first most perilous year. In truth, I have much to be thankful for.
More anon, LFW
Olympia Brown closed the worn leather diary she’d discovered in a secret cupboard when she bought the house. Page by handwritten page, she was working her way through it and learning about the life and times of the last direct descendant of the man who built her home. She was waiting for a very important letter—a letter that would determine what she would or would not be doing for the next four months. It was due to arrive that day, and from where she sat she could see and hear the mail truck squealing to a stop at the end of her driveway.
Office of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care
Dear Rev. Dr. Brown,
I am pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into our Extended Unit, Winter Chaplaincy Practicum, beginning on November 1 of this year and continuing until February 28. This unit of study requires twenty-five hours a week of combined practical and clinical work for a total of seventeen weeks, which, when completed successfully, will qualify as a credentialed unit of CPE totaling four hundred hours of supervised Clinical Pastoral Education.
You are one of a highly select group of six chaplains chosen from over fifty qualified applicants. Mercy Hospital has one of the most highly rated CPE programs in the country with a tradition of excellence which you and your five colleagues will be expected to meet, if not exceed.
Please report to the Kessler Conference Room on Monday, November 1, promptly at 9:00 a.m. At that time you will be issued your hospital identification badge and will take an introductory tour of the hospital. At 11:30 a.m. we will have a period of centering prayer in the interdenominational chapel, followed by lunch in the hospital cafeteria. We will begin our clinical discussions at 1:30 p.m. back here in the Conference Room and continue until 4:00.
I look forward to working with you and ask that on our first day together you be dressed appropriately, have writing materials with you, and arrive on time.
In faith and mercy,
Sr. Patrick Alphonsus, OP
When Olympia Brown finished reading though the letter a second time, she handed it to Frederick Watkins, her live-in significant other, and began fanning herself with the empty envelope.
“That’s terrific, Olympia. I know what this means to you, and I think it’s a good idea that you waited to be in the extended program. You must be thrilled. Think of it, you start in less than three weeks.”
Olympia smiled and looked at the man who had come to mean so much to her. “The timing is perfect. I really wanted to have a little time when my daughter’s baby was born. It was so long that I couldn’t be present for her. I’ve missed out on so much. So when she asked me to be there for the birth of her own baby, there was no way I was going to let anything get in the way of it. But now that Laura, little Erica and all the grandparents are doing well, I can get on with my own life.
“She really is a little beauty. I’d forgotten how small they are. I suppose this makes me a sort of grandparent as well,” said Frederick.
“No, my dear, watching you holding her in the hospital, I think you qualify for the real thing.”
Olympia changed the subject and pointed to the letter in his hand. “That is one no-nonsense letter, Frederick. I know the CPE program at Mercy is rated as one of the best in the country, but this reads like an order to show up at boot camp—and what the hell is appropriate dress?”
“I guess that means dressing smartly.”
“Does that imply I dress stupidly?”
“Not at all, my darling. My mother used to say, ‘neat but not gaudy.’ In England smart clothing is what you might wear in an office but not quite so impersonal. You are simply not a gray pinstripe and school tie sort of woman.”
Olympia put down the envelope and frowned. “This could present a problem. Nobody cared what we wore at the college, and I’ve hardly been a follower of fashion. I’m built for comfort, not for speed, and my summer on Martha’s Vineyard, the casual capital of the western world, did nothing at all to improve on that. I’m more shabby chic than haute couture.”
“Few women are, and unless you are a policewoman or a British Airways flight attendant, neckties are not womanly attire. A pretty scarf, maybe, but not a tie. Look, why don’t you just call the good nun who wrote the letter and ask her?”
“The good nun who wrote that letter sounds like a drill sergeant. She’s the last person I want to look stupid in front of.”
“Olympia, something simple in a subdued color, freshly ironed and devoid of cat hair, in which you feel comfortable should do it. Wear what you wear when you preach.”
“I wear my clerical robe,” wailed Olympia. “It covers everything.”
“A bit bulky, I think,” said Frederick.