A former investigative reporter, Sister Agatha has more than her fair share of spiritual challenges as an extern, a nun responsible for her cloistered order's dealings with the outside world. Still, she's instantly intrigued when the archbishop requests she discreetly investigate the odd disappearances of valuable religious folk art from The Retreat, a former New Mexico monastery-turned-upscale-inn. But soon Sister Agatha is entangled in one unearthly puzzle that includes an art expert who's vanished without a trace, a truly strange flock of out-there suspects, and an unnerving apparition no amount of rationality can explain. She'll have to bring all her worldly instincts and savvy to heading off a disastrous scandal--as well as a sheriff more interested in political glory than finding the truth. And between strange clues and plenty of unexpected motives, Sister Agatha will need plenty of spiritual intervention and heaven-sent cunning to bring one devilish murderer to book...
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May 01, 2006
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Excerpt from Thief in Retreat by Aimee Thurlo
Chapter One nbsp; The sun was still high in the clear new mexico sky as Sister Agatha pressed the candy-apple-red Harley for a little more speed. She was determined to finish her tasks and make it back to the monastery before None, which started at 3:00 p.m. sharp. As an extern nun at Our Lady of Hope Monastery, Sister Agatha wasn’t required to celebrate the liturgical hours with her cloistered sisters, but she never liked missing None. The ninth hour of prayer commemorated the Passion of Our Lord, and after all he’d done for mankind it seemed practically sinful not to honor that time with prayer. nbsp; With Sister Bernarda, the other extern at Our Lady of Hope, acting as the monastery’s gatekeeper today, Sister Agatha had left to run errands in town. As usual, she was behind schedule and feeling the pressure. She glanced to her right at Pax, who was riding in the sidecar. The white German shepherd, her ever-present companion whenever she was away from home, was resting his muzzle beside the small windscreen as he watched the landscape whizzing by. He seemed perfectly content to enjoy each moment as it came and looked to be completely at peace. Sister Agatha sighed, remembering the Bible quote from Job that read, “But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee.” Pax’s needs were simple, and he could find peace and contentment no matter where he was. nbsp; After a short ride, Sister Agatha pulled into the parking lot of Panza Llena, a family restaurant at the north end of Bernalillo, not far from the main intersection of their small town. The owner, Mrs. Chavez, had placed a collection box near the cash register to help the parish raise funds for Arturo Mendoza, a local boy who needed a kidney transplant. Part of Sister Agatha’s job today was to pick up the money raised at the various sites around town. nbsp; Sister Agatha climbed off the Harley and removed her red helmet. Once Pax was at “stay” on a patch of grass in the shade of the building, she reached into the pocket of her habit and pulled out a doggie biscuit. “I’ll be right back.” nbsp; As she stepped inside the restaurant, Sister Agatha was immediately struck by the silence. She’d been here a couple of times before on monastery business, and she couldn’t remember it ever being so quiet. nbsp; She looked around, noting that there were a dozen or more diners seated at the tables. Though most had food before them, none appeared to be eating. As she shifted her gaze, Sister Agatha saw the cook out front by the counter, and the two waitresses standing beside him. No one was making eye contact with the tall Anglo man standing in front of the cash register, not even Mrs. Chavez, who was working as cashier today. nbsp; Something was very wrong. As her gaze swept around the room again, Sister Agatha noticed that everyone was watching her—except the man in front of the cash register. He seemed to be watching everyone else. nbsp; Sister Agatha took a moment to study him. He had pale blond hair, needed a shave, and was wearing a loose blue windbreaker made out of nylon, and worn jeans. His hands were in his pockets, and he was shifting restlessly from one foot to the other. She was just about to say something to him when she noticed that the cash register drawer was open and Mrs. Chavez had a fistful of bills in her hands. The special collection box for the Mendoza boy was also open, and had obviously been emptied. nbsp; She’d walked in on a robbery. Despite the large repertoire of prayers she’d learned as a Catholic—both before and after becoming a nun—the only thing that came into her mind now was the most basic of all pleas—Oh Lord, help! nbsp; Sister Agatha for