An ailing mother, the death of his son, and a divorce all converge on Lino Cardosa, forcing him to leave his insurance investigator life and return home to Provincetown. Not long after his return, a fire burns Provincetown’s St. Peter the Apostle Church to the ground, church funds are stolen, and the priest, Father Jeremiah Dunn, disappears. When Lino is told that Father Dunn has answers to Lino’s son’s suicide, he sets out to find the priest and the truth.
When the church caught fire, rumors spread like so many sparks in the night sky: Father Jerry set it himself. Hadn’t faulty wiring popped up in one sermon after another over the past months? He could build a sermon around anything, but he chose old wires and imperfect circuits to prepare the congregation for what was coming. It’s clear as a spring morning now–Father Jerry wasn’t raising more money to fix what ailed the hundred-year-old building. No, he was raising money for his own personal use once he caught the Provincetown bus to Boston, then onto Logan Airport where two tickets to Rome waited for him. He burned the church to destroy evidence that would lead to his conviction.
But, the tickets were never picked up, and Alitalia’s Flight 725 left without Father Jerry and his companion. Where they got to, no one knows. Who Father Jerry was traveling with, no one is telling.
The silence only fueled the rumors: The airplane tickets were a hoax, a planted diversion designed to perplex. Father Jerry was as Irish as a Dublin pub; he wouldn’t run to Italy. He’d go back home and disappear among all the Dublin Dunns. Or, maybe South America. How long could you live in Argentina on three hundred thousand dollars? If, indeed, that was the correct amount stolen from the church. Father Jerry didn’t keep all the money in the bank and what records he did keep burned in the fire. Gossipers started out at eighty thousand stolen and like bids shouted out at an auction, stopped at half a million before people came to their senses. Where would Father Jeremiah Dunn, the parish priest of St. Peter the Apostle in Provincetown, Massachusetts, lay his hands on that kind of money? It couldn’t have come only from the congregation. They gave small amounts weekly and willingly but nothing close to three hundred thousand in the six years Father Jerry urged their generosity.
Maybe it wasn’t money that drove him to overload the wiring, feel the walls heat until flames shot through the roof, making sure the old wooden church could not be saved before he called the fire department. Maybe at fifty he’d fallen in love with someone other than God. Maybe a woman captured his kind heart. Or, maybe the suspicions about his sexual preference were true, and he gave in to a man. Or, maybe, like the tickets to Rome, that second seat on the airplane was also meant to cloud clarity. There was no one else. There was only Father Jerry who had vanished with the money like the smoke mixing with the sparks that rose into the night’s sky.
Ben Covey drove past the locked and unmanned ranger station at the edge of Herring Cove’s nearly empty parking lot and backed his double slide Fleetwood into place. It was the last week in April, and a heavy northeast wind stacked choppy seas along the beach. Covey liked this time of year on Cape Cod. The camp grounds were officially closed, and large crowds were weeks away as were the sand flies, gnats, and misquotes. Covey and his family had the entire beach to themselves.
Usually, the Timlins joined them for the inaugural weekend of the camping season, but Joey Timlin said it was still too cold to hit the road. Joey, like the rest of New England’s residents, had suffered through the longest stretch of bitter winter on record. Over one hundred inches of snow had fallen in Boston, making unbearable the subzero temperatures. In February, the thermometer never rose above twenty degrees. Most nights were in the minus single digits. As bad as it was in the city, the Outer Cape, that thirty-mile stretch of sandy land between Chatham and Provincetown, received more snow than any other place in the state. Blizzards and nor’easters pounded the fragile shore, dumping over a foot of snow at a time. The last storm in mid-March buried the dunes in more than three feet of white powder. For the first time in memory, the beaches were filled with more cross-country skiers than fishermen. Joey Timlin jokingly told his friend Ben Covey that when he got to Provincetown, a foot of snow wou
l’d greet him at the Herring Cove parking lot. Joey would wait another week or two to keep peace in his family before driving down and freezing.
Ben found the cold wind refreshing. It cleared his head and gave him fleeting, anxious thoughts about exploration and traveling where no one had before. The RV salesman stressed adventure–pack up the family and set out on a trip of a lifetime. Ben believed in that adventure. He savored moments alone on the windy beach under low, gray clouds. You had to dress for the weather, but the Fleetwood had plenty of closets, enough to please Janie, his fourteen year-old daughter. Twelve year-old Sam, Ben and Sarah’s other child, got by on sweatshirts and shorts. No matter what the weather, Sam put on his red Patriots football sweatshirt and cutoff blue jeans. Freezing or not, he stayed true to his summer uniform.
Ben caught a glimpse of that uniform disappearing over the steep dune that bordered the tarmac parking lot. Janie led the way, hoping the dune’s height would provide reception for her cell phone. When that failed, she pulled her fleece jacket tighter around her and picked her way around a thorny cluster of rosa rugosa full of tiny spring buds.
“Who you callin’?” Sam dashed past her, stomping across some beach grass flitting in the breeze. “I bet I know. Ryan.”
“Ryan, Ryan, he’s my man. If he can’t do it, no one can.”
Janie spun and hurried off in the opposite direction. “I have other friends.”
“Say what you want. It’s Ryan.”
Janie tried the number again, then glared at her awkward brother. “It’s not anybody. The phone doesn’t work out here in the middle of nowhere.”
“It’s not the middle of anything. It’s the end, the end of the world. You can’t go any further unless you want to drive into the Atlantic and drown.”
“I can swim.”
“Not as good as me.” Sam caught up to his angry sister and reached for the phone. “Let me try.”
Janie jerked it out of reach. “When you grow up.”
“I’m almost as old as you.” Sam lunged one of his famous, high-energy, fake-out lunges he used on the basketball court to steal the ball. Janie stepped aside and watched her brother fall in a heap.
“How’s that beach plum taste?” Janie snickered. “You want to watch those stickers don’t cut your baby face.”
“Who you calling a baby?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sam squirmed to his seat.
“Do too. Mom taught us last year.” Janie swept one arm over the mounds and hallows of sand chiseled and changed for thousands of years by the wind. The dune’s immensity produced a loneliness in her that made her secretly glad her brother was with her. “Nature walks,” Janie continued. “You should have paid more attention. If you had you would know you’re sitting on a clump of dusty miller.”
Startled at the thought, Sam put his hands down to push himself up only to jerk his right hand away.
“What’s the matter?”
“I dunno. Something hard.”
Janie bent down for a closer look as Sam clawed through the sand. In seconds, he pulled out a tarnished, silver cross upon which lay the delicate figure of the crucified Christ. The cross more than covered both of Sam’s open hands.
“It’s huge,” he cried, not able to contain his excitement. “Maybe it’s part of some buried treasure. I bet it is. Mom said explorers were here hundreds of years ago. They probably left stuff behind.”
Janie took the cross and held it by the piece of short chain attached at the top. “It’s not all here,” she said, looking more carefully at Sam’s find. “The chain’s broken. See this link? It’s opened the slightest bit.”
“So maybe it got caught on something and fell off somebody’s neck or out of their hands. I don’t know.”
“I do,” Sam blustered. “I say it got caught on an old nail in the wooden chest when the pirates went to bury it. Those old chests were heavy, especially loaded down with gold and jewels and iron muskets to fight off their enemies. I’m going to find it.” Sam dug wildly, not waiting for Janie to join in. “I’m gonna be a billionaire.” His hands sprayed sand like a digging dog. “I’m gonna buy a motorcycle and an airplane and a movie theatre so I can see all the films and eat all the popcorn I want, free.”
Sam’s furious digging flung a clump of something that fell with a thud near Janie’s feet. Could her boneheaded brother be right about the treasure? With the tip of her shoe, she nudged the offering, scraping off some of the caked-on sand.
“Sam?” A hint of revulsion and fear mixed with the words. “Samuel? Would you stop digging, and tell me I’m seeing things?”
Sam stopped his search, but he couldn’t do more to ease his sister’s mounting fears.
“Mother!” Janie’s frightened voice quickly pierced the wind. “Mother, up here. Quickly!”