Sondra pressed the baby's head against her neck; her lips lingered on the soft cheek; her hand caressed the infant's back and legs. Then, in a decisive move, she slipped the tiny figure into the shopping bag, reached for the secondhand stroller folded next to her and tucked the handle under one arm.
She waited until several people had walked past her hiding place, then hurried to the curb and looked up and down the street. A block away traffic was stopped at the red light, but she saw no pedestrians coming in either direction.
A solid wall of parked cars on both sides of the street helped to protect Sondra from any curious eyes as she darted across the street to the rectory. There she ran up the three steps to the narrow stoop and opened the stroller. After engaging the brake, she laid the baby snugly under the stroller's hood and laid the bundle of clothes and bottles at her feet. She knelt for a moment and took one last look at her child. "Good-bye," she whispered. Then she stood and quickly ran down the steps and headed toward Columbus Avenue.
She would make the call to the rectory from a street phone two blocks away.
Lenny prided himself on being in and out of a church in less than three minutes. You never know about silent alarms, he thought, as he opened his backpack and pulled out a flashlight. Keeping the narrow beam pointed toward the floor, he quickly began to make his usual rounds. He went to the poor box first. Donations had been down lately, he'd noticed, but this one yielded a better than usual take, somewhere between thirty and forty dollars.
The offering boxes below the votive candles turned out to be the most satisfactory of any of the last ten churches he had hit. There were seven of them, placed at intervals in front of the statues of the saints. Quickly he smashed the locks and grabbed the cash.
In the last month he'd come to Mass here a couple of times to study the layout; he had observed that the priest consecrated the bread and wine in plain goblets, so he didn't bother to break into the tabernacle, since there'd be nothing special there. He was just as glad to avoid doing that anyway. The couple of years he'd spent in parochial school had had an effect on him, he acknowledged, making him queasy about doing certain things. It definitely got in his way when it came to robbing churches.
On the other hand, he had no qualms about leaving with the prize that had brought him here in the first place, the silver chalice with the star-shaped diamond at the base. It had belonged to Joseph Santori, the priest who founded St. Clement's parish one hundred years ago, and it was the one treasure this historic church contained.
A painting of Santori hung above a mahogany cabinet in a recess to the right of the sanctuary. The cabinet was ornate, its grillwork designed to both protect and display the chalice. After one of the masses he had attended, Lenny had drifted over to read the plaque beneath the cabinet.
At his ordination in Rome, Father, later Bishop, Santori was given this cup by Countess Maria Tomicelli. It had been in her family since the days of early Christianity. At age 45, Joseph Santori was consecrated as a bishop and assigned to the See of Rochester. Upon his retirement at age 75, he returned to St. Clement's, where he spent his remaining years working among the poor and the elderly. Bishop Joseph Santori's reputation for holiness was so widespread that after his death, a petition was signed to ask the Holy See to consider him for beatification, a cause that remains active today.
The diamond definitely would bring a few bucks, Lenny thought as he swung his hatchet. With two hard blows he smashed the hinges of the cabinet. He yanked open the doors and grabbed the chalice. Afraid that he might have triggered a silent alarm, he quickly ran to the side door of the church, unlocked it and pushed it open, anxious now to get out.
Copyright © 1998 by Mary Higgins Clark
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