Read The Diva Wore Diamonds Online

Authors: Mark Schweizer

Tags: #Singers, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #North Carolina, #Fiction

The Diva Wore Diamonds (8 page)


Balaam sat on his ass,” giggled Ashley during the sermon, passing the pew Bible to Bernadette and pointing out the offending passage.


You kids be quiet now,” hissed one of the ushers. “Or I’ll make you go sit with your parents.” This admonition always worked for about two minutes.

The service ended on a high note, Karg-Elert’s
Nun Danket Alle Gott,
that rattled the dentures of several old folks who’d neglected to use a sufficient amount of Polygrip, as specified in the prayer book. The choir applauded enthusiastically, and we shed our vestments and headed down to the new parish hall for brunch, speeches, and the opening of the St. Barnabas time capsule.


I’d like to welcome everyone here today,” said Bev Greene, once everyone had gotten their food and found some seats. “This is a very special occasion.”


Balaam sat on his ass,” snorted Moosey, finally looking at the piece of paper he’d been passed during the sermon.


Hush,” said Meg, snatching the paper away and sticking it in her purse. Ruby, Meg’s mother, took Moosey’s hand, and we found our table, our reservation being held by Nancy and Dave who had come over for the festivities, then sneaked into the parish hall during the final hymn to beat the crowd. Nancy, in her police uniform due to a specific duty she’d agreed to perform during the opening of the time capsule, managed to hold our seats by looking daggers at anyone who attempted to usurp them. It was an effective tactic, and people shied away, looking for a less inhospitable landing.


It’s particularly appropriate,” said Bev, “that we have our Celebration Sunday on the feast day of St. Barnabas, and thanks to all the workers, contractors, and everyone else who has been toiling around the clock to make sure we were ready for our homecoming. They’ve done a beautiful job rebuilding our church, and we’re more grateful than words can say.”

Applause.

We went through several short speeches, including one by Mayor Cynthia Johnsson; our chief architect, Jessica Adeline; Michael Baum of the Baum-Boltoph Organ Company, and Father Tony, with Bev acting as the mistress of ceremonies. Meg had declined the invitation to be included.

At long last, Bev yielded the dais to Bishop O’Connell, who stepped up to the mic, all smiles and hairspray, his lilac shirt a little damp from the perspiration that a service clad in extra-fancy vestments, a thirty pound cope and a velvet-lined mitre tend to encourage, especially in June.


It is my pleasure, as always, to be with the congregation of St. Barnabas,” said Bishop O’Connell. “I know you don’t want to hear another sermon by me…”

Laughter.


…and so I shall be happy to turn the program over to Billy Hixon. I’m sure we’re all waiting to view the contents of the time-capsule that was found under the foundation of the old church. However, before we do, let us have a prayer.”

Every head bowed, and the bishop said the collect for St. Barnabas Day.


Grant, O Lord, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well-being of Your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”


Amen,” the crowd answered.


Billy?” said the bishop, gesturing to Billy Hixon, who climbed the two steps onto the low platform, carrying the box that everyone had come to see opened. There was a small side-table set up in the middle of the platform, and Billy placed the box on it. The box was exactly thirteen and one quarter inches wide, twelve and a half inches long and nine inches deep. Billy had measured it. It was black in color, made of steel and quite heavy. On the front of the box was a hasp, also made of steel, and a brass padlock that had been cleaned. The lock had the date 1875 stamped into the brass along with the manufacturer’s information—the Handy Lock Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Nancy now followed Billy onto the dais. She had two items with her. The first was a set of shims. (One of Nancy’s hobbies was picking locks.) A lock this old, she reckoned, shouldn’t give her any problem at all. She figured it would take thirty seconds, a minute at the outside. Failing this, Billy had made sure that she also had a pair of bolt cutters. Even though it would be a shame to cut the antique lock, everyone had come to see the contents of the box, and the celebration committee didn’t want anyone to go away disappointed.


This here’s the box that was found under the foundation when we were digging for the new basement,” said Billy. “We think that it might be a time capsule, but we don’t know for sure. It was probably put in the ground around 1901. According to the records in the courthouse, that’s when the foundation was completed for the second church. There could be anything in this.” Billy picked up the box. “Greetings from Sunday School classes, bulletins, church documents, old pictures…”


Shake it, Billy,” came a voice from the crowd. “See if it rattles.”


Nah, I ain’t gonna shake it. But it’s time to open it up.”

The excitement was palpable, and people chattered enthusiastically. Billy set the box back down on the table and gestured toward Lieutenant Parsky. Nancy was as good as her reputation. As a hush fell over the crowd, she bent down, chose a shim from her case, and, twenty-three seconds later, the lock dropped open. A cheer went up from the congregation. Nancy blushed, waved, and came back to our table. Billy slid the lock off the hasp, opened the box and lifted out a leather pouch, about the size of an old marble bag we’d all carried as kids, cracked and stiff with age. He set the pouch on the table, reached back into the box and brought out a plain white envelope. He opened the envelope and unfolded a letter.


Read it aloud,” called a voice, as Billy skimmed the contents of the letter and looked somber.


It’s from Father Simon Faulks,” said Billy.


I remember the name,” Meg whispered to me. “His picture used to hang in the hallway with the other priests who had been rectors of St. Barnabas. He must have been the priest when the old church was rebuilt.”

I nodded in agreement.


The date at the top says 21 November, 1900.”

The crowd had become very quiet.


I can’t read this,” said Billy.


Sure you can,” called someone. “Just read it.”


I mean I
can’t
read it. It’s all old-time cursivy and stuff.”


I’ll read it,” said Ruby, standing up. “I’m old enough to remember good penmanship.” She ascended the platform, and Billy handed her the letter.


To whomever finds this,” began Ruby. “I don’t know how this story will end, nor even how it began, and I ask the Almighty’s forgiveness if I’ve erred in judgment.”

I am Rev. Simon Faulks, rector of St. Barnabas for five years and in office at the time of the terrible fire. Before taking my vows, however, I studied geology at the university, was granted a degree, and was subsequently employed by the Piedmont Mining Company, for whom I worked for several years. I only disclose this information to explain why I believe that it was God’s Holy will that I, a humble man of faith, yet of particular background and education, be here in St. Germaine at this particular time.

We laid dynamite for the foundation on Tuesday last. The entire town came out to enjoy the spectacle and the noise, and, although some children got a bit close, the explosions went off without incident and a fine time was had by all. On Wednesday, before the laborers arrived, I took it on myself to go into the pit and poke around. The geologist in me, I suppose. What I found was nothing short of astonishing.

Ruby asked for a glass of water, took a sip, set it on the table behind her and then continued.

Resting lightly on the rubble were gemstones. Raw diamonds. I collected nine in the hour I spent in the pit. These matched thirteen other stones I had found in a cave on Quail Ridge one month earlier. I have sent those thirteen stones to a colleague in Charlotte for confirmation. The nine I found here, I leave in this box.

I never looked again. These were days of trial for St. Barnabas, and the discovery of a diamond mine at the site of the church would have demanded more temperance than I believe the church, or even the town, could have exhibited. St. Germaine would have followed the hasty progress of so many boomtowns, and I saw the ruination of everything we’d worked to accomplish.

And so I keep my secret. God forgive me if I’ve done wrong.

Yours very truly,

Fr. Simon Faulks

Ruby looked at Billy, who was holding the leather draw-string bag. He worried it open and, after a long moment, poured the gemstones into his hand. Nine unassuming rocks, the size of marbles, tumbled out and rested in his outstretched palm.


Are they big?” asked someone from the back.

Billy shrugged. “Don’t look that big to me, but I don’t know nothin’ about diamonds. I’ll take ‘em into Boone and see what’s what.”


Quail Ridge,” said Nancy. “That’s Noylene’s place.”


Yep,” I said.

Chapter 6

Meg was spending the night at her mother’s house. I took this as an opportunity to smoke one of my Cuban cigars, put on my new recording of Mahler’s
Rückert Lieder
, and try out a new beer, Sprecher Black Bavarian Style Lager, that Pete had picked up in Asheville. I settled behind my typewriter, listened to the bass voice of José van Dam fill the house, then slipped a piece of paper behind the platen, gave a few clicks and started writing.

•••


My name is Constance,” said the apparition. “Constance Noring. And I need your help.”


I can help,” I said. “It’ll cost you two Cs a day plus expenses.”


I don’t have that kind of money,” she suddenly blubbed, turning on the waterworks, like that guy who, you know, turns on Niagara Falls for the tourists every morning. “My mother’s living at the bus station and she needs her medicine…”


Knock it off, sister,” I grunted. “You’re not talking to some schlemiel with a heater who doesn’t keep score. I know exactly who you are and why you’re here.”

The tears dried up as fast as Hillary’s campaign contributions and were replaced by eyelashes flapping so hard I could feel my nose-hair beginning to part.


Now how would you know that?” she mused, musing in a bemused fashion.

I reached into my desk drawer and pulled out the July issue of
Hymns and Hers
magazine. It fell open to page 64, and there she was, in all her peeled and pagan glory, directly across the page from the article on the use of the dudelsack in Lenten services. Constance Noring. Diva. Miss July. Originally from Australia. Turn ons: Long walks on the beach, snuggling, Reformation hymnody, Philip Glass concert arias, dispensationalist theology, and puppies.


I see you have it bookmarked,” she said, grinning like the puppy that ate the dudelsack. “Maybe you’d like a first-hand peek?”


Maybe I would, toots. Maybe I would.”

•••

The next morning, I found Billy Hixon in the parish hall, sitting at one of the tables, having a cup of coffee with Meg, Elaine, and Bev. Meg gave me a smile that I could feel down to my toes. I walked up and returned her smile with a smooch. A loud one.


Oh, get a room,” said Elaine, rolling her eyes in mock-disgust.

Other books

The Serpent of Eridor by Alison Gardiner
Training Days by Jane Frances
Shadows Fall Away by Forbes, Kit
Sylvia's Farm by Sylvia Jorrin
Deadly Dues by Linda Kupecek
Woman by Richard Matheson
Everything by Williams, Jeri
Serial Killers Uncut by Blake Crouch, Jack Kilborn, J. A. Konrath
Holland Suggestions by John Dunning