Brother Julian from SANTUARY – circa 1740s France
by Molly Noble Bull
Brother Julian glanced at the others in the room. “Never have I seen so many books in one place other than inside the walls of a church.” The portly monk’s high- pitched, squeaky voice revealed a strong French accent. “All of you must be blessed. To be sure, I am amazed.” A slow smiled formed on his thick lips as his gaze moved to the bookcase next to the line of small desks that Jose had just righted. “I speak English but little. Would it be possible for me to study some of the titles here? Perhaps read some of the books on the shelves?”
Liza Jane shrugged. “I don’t care if nobody else does.”
“Thank you, mademoiselle. You are most kind.”
The monk pulled a book from one of the shelves. He glanced at the cover and put it back where he found it. Then he reached for a large Bible.
“All our Bibles are written in English,” Liza Jane said.
“Pity.” Brother Julian shook his head. “Still, it is rare indeed to see a Holy Book outside a church. Is it not? My FAITH demands that I examine it. Might I?”
Liza Jane nodded. “Of course.”
The short, round little monk was too fat to fit into any of the desks. Nevertheless, he settled his large body on the top of one as if he thought it was a bench or a backless chair.
The baroness let out a heaving breath. “This is getting us no closer to figuring out who did this. Tell me; who was the last one out of the schoolhouse after the lightning struck?”
Cutter cleared his throat. “The monk and I. We stood on the steps and filled my pipe. Then I went out and joined you and Jose, baroness.”
Everybody turned to Brother Julian. He pressed the palm of his hand to his ample chest. “Surely you would not accuse a holy man like me of such a crime.” When he realized everybody still stared at him, he opened the pouch attached to his rope belt. He pulled out a piece of broken leather and held it up for all to see. “Does this not look like a strap taken from a horse’s lead? I found this when we all came back in. Now think, if you will. Who but Jose arrived on a horse? Therefore, who but Jose would have need of a leather strap like this one? I followed Cutter out; Jose could have snuck in after I left.”
Liza Jane from LOVING LIZA JANE – circa 1880s Kentucky
by Shar MacLaren
Liza gasped at the sight of her once well-organized classroom and tried to stop the tears, knowing her blubbery state would accomplish nothing. She looked toward the window where, outside, the rain still fell in torrents. She batted at the wet trail with the back of her hand and willed herself to calm down. This was a serious matter and one that demanded a clear head, not a head stuffed full of woeful emotion. Someone among them had transformed her perfect little classroom into a cyclone, and she needed to determine the culprit’s identity.
Pulling back her shoulders, she looked at the cluster of mismatched people who had chosen her schoolhouse for a place of refuge from the summer storm and found equal looks of astoundment on each face, not that she’d ever considered herself terribly good at discerning folks’ inner thoughts. Trusting by nature, perhaps to a fault, she’d always sought the good in everyone, believing most to be innately honorable. Oh, she wasn’t so naïve as to believe that crimes didn’t occur, but that’s why she’d left her native Boston to travel to the quiet, respectable—and wholesome—town of Little Hickman, Kentucky.
Now she saw the futility in such thinking. It would seem that even in this tiny burg, the presence of evil hovered nearby.
“What a horrid mess!” remarked Brook, smoothing down the front of her dress, as if the clutter had somehow affected her natural-born beauty. “Why, I never…!”
“Appears to me there’s a rotten apple among us,” said Jose. He peered through dark eyes from one to the other. In his depthless gaze, a look of suspicion leaked out. “Seems we weren’t all in the same place at the same time.”
“Don’t go looking at me with those accusing eyes,” said Cutter, removing his pipe from his mouth with his good hand. His other one sagged at the end of a useless, shriveled arm. “I’d be hard put to do such damage with only one good limb.”
“Your good arm looks plenty strong enough to me,” said Brother Julian.
Even though he stood a good six feet away from Liza, the round man’s rancid breath carried across the room. She had all she could do not to pinch her nose shut.
Cutter narrowed his eyes at the chubby, bald-headed fellow and opened his mouth to retort, but Liza stopped him with an outstretched hand.
“Now, please, let’s not start throwing out accusations without some measure of proof. What we need here is PATIENCE, my friends, that and a bit of common sense. Let us think this thing through in as orderly a way as possible. Now then…”
Liza closed her eyes in thought and when she reopened them, spotted something lying on the floor she hadn’t seen before. It was a book, and not a student textbook, either. In fact, this one was altogether unfamiliar.
Her curiosity piqued, so she left her circle of “guests” to retrieve the book.
Bending, she felt her face pull into a tight frown when she saw that, though a Bible, it was in French. Certainly not something she or her students would own. And so far as she could recall, none of the guests had been in this corner of the room before the tree fell, so if someone dropped it, it would have had to be while making this mess.
She held the book’s cover up for all to see. “Which one of you claims to own this?”