Maggie entered the solarium and crossed the short hallway created by the greenhouse installed for Miss Rossis flowers. Shed had rare Moth Orchids shipped in from Asia and they were blooming in long white-to-pink sprays. Maggie passed them and went to the farthest corner of the solarium where the wrought iron furniture was. From there, she could see the penthouse upstairs, or at least a corner of its brick terrace. She took off her hat and pretended she was enjoying the lush, green view of Central Park. Maggie grew excited when she glimpsed the tip of a red hat. Either it was a tall woman, she decided, or one of those big shots in the Catholic Church.
Hearing nothing else, she returned to the hall and went to Dr. Rossis lab at the end, getting out her key to the metal door.
Inside she took off her hat and placed it on the long table below the full-sized, framed replica of the Shroud of Turin. Dr. Rossi bought it when he was just seventeen and went on a pilgrimage to Rome. Frances said he found the Scala Santa, the twenty-eight steps of Tyrian marble taken from Pontius Pilates headquarters in Palestine. Jesus must have gone up them on the day he was condemned. Dr. Rossi had ascended them on his knees, like the other faithful, stopping on each one to say its special prayer. Hed brought this copy of the Shroud home with him and told his father he wanted to be a priest, but his father wouldnt hear of it. For days theyd fought while his mother and Frances cried. The father won in the end, but Dr. Rossi had hung this up and lived like a priest his whole life, anyway.
To Maggie it seemed indecent to display Jesus broken body like that, but she whispered, "Forgive us, Lord," like she always did when she saw it. She took off her white gloves and put on a long-sleeved lab coat. She pulled on medical grade latex gloves, just as a precaution. All she needed was to dust. In his absence, there would be no spills or broken test tubes, no biohazard waste.
Hurriedly, she wiped the familiar black surfaces: the glass-fronted cabinets and stainless steel shelves, the white lab refrigerator, his laminar flow hood, gleaming microscopes of different kinds, his scales and meters and racks of waiting test tubeseverything the latest and the best for his research. She knew most of his equipment because her first job in New York had been at Harlem Hospital. Once hed had a lab at Mount Sinai but when he was refused space for a controversial project, he up and installed a lab right here. Must have had his lawyer grease palms to get the permits. Must have paid big to run the plumbing and such from his Dads old medical office up here.
She was dusting the desk when her hand sent a notebook flying. It bounced on the tile floor and clicked as it opened, as if it had been locked. She reached to pick it up and was shocked to see her name entered on what appeared to be a list. Maggie drew the page closer, and then slapped the book shut.
"Look at me, snooping," she said out loud.
The word Journal was printed on the cover. Shed seen the notebook, or others like it, in the lab from time to time.
Maggie put it down and finished her dusting. Then she looked at her watch, glanced across at her Graham Smith hat, and sat down at the desk.
"Jesus, forgive me for what Im going to do," she said.
She opened the journal to the page with her name and read the line. It said:
9. Let Maggie go before proceeding.
Copyright © 2003 Jamilla Rhines Lankford. All rights reserved. Used with permission of Great Reads Books LLC
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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