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Prolouge

 DEATH IN DISGUISE

           

           PROLOGUE

Monday, April 28th 

      Tucked into a fetal position, Eliana winced as convulsions racked her thin body against the bedroom's scarred floorboards. I'm supposed to be going home. Her mind raced, confused by the force that caused her muscles to contract and quiver. One thing was certain--it was the priest's handiwork.

       "This isn't what it seems." His usual jovial voice sounded different. The singsong lilt had vanished, leaving a sharp, hard cadence. He grabbed her white-knuckled fist and stopped it from hammering against her chest. With a firm grasp, he straightened out her fingers and kissed her palm. She couldn't stop it from banging against the floor like a dead weight.

      He slid closer and stroked her cheek. She wanted to slap his hand away, but the tingling in her arm, a new sensation, scared her. His fingertips swept across her cheek, brushed her lips, and then stopped at her dimpled chin--and lingered there. 

      "You're so delicate and beautiful." He sighed. "Perfect, in fact."

      "Padre Clancy," she managed a husky whisper. She closed her eyelids as the twinges rippling down her arm stopped. Except for a stinging pain in the small of her back, she felt almost normal. She slipped her hand beneath her thick, dark hair and touched what seemed like a fish hook stuck into her flesh.

      "Why?" Her question hung in the air.

      He snatched the Taser, an arm's reach away, and pressed the electroshock weapon into her shoulder. She screamed as the explosive jolt of electricity coursed down her spine, causing her muscles to contort and twitch like an epileptic in the throes of a fit.

      To her surprise, the instant he removed the device, her muscles relaxed. No tingling. No spasms--only exhaustion as if a deep wave of fatigue had washed over her--and a weird sense of peacefulness. She flashed her eyes open. He hovered above stroking his graying beard with one hand and gripping the Taser with the other.

      "Just as I imagined. The drive-stun is as effective as the cartridge."

      "I no understand--"

      "Of course you don't." He placed the weapon on the floor, reached in her direction, but stopped short of touching her, and stood. 

      Eliana imagined a trace of sadness clouding his eyes. It lasted only a second. 

      He thrust his hand into the pocket of his black suit coat. "Here." He pulled out a rosary and dangled it in front of her before releasing the string of beads. It hit the floor with a clatter.

       She grasped the ebony beads and brought the small crucifix to her lips not daring to pull her eyes away from him as he headed toward the bed. As he lingered there, she wondered how many minutes had passed since she'd raced into her bedroom to gather her belongings. The prospect of being reunited with her family in Ecuador now seemed like an illusion: a blinding act of trickery that drew her into this nightmare. The dresser drawer hung half-open, and its meager contents never made it to her satchel but lay strewn across the floor. She fingered a couple of the wooden beads with silent prayer then lifted the rosary over her head and placed it around her neck.

       The click of his briefcase locks startled her. she jolted onto her knees, but the quick movement seemed to cause the room to whirl as if she were a rider on a carousel speeding out of control. She wanted to cry, to scream, to squelch the ache for her mother's comforting arms, but most of all, she wanted to escape. She grit her teeth and crawled to the room's far wall and the window she'd opened when the rays of the morning sun filtered through the glass panes.

      It'll be easy enough to slip out . . . if only . . . 

      She banished the negative thought before it fully developed. Dizziness and fear blurred her sight as she patted the cracked plaster wall until she smacked her hand against the rough-hewn, wooden still.

      "Eliana." The priest's voice sounded like thunder.

      She curled her fingers around the molding and pulled upward. A gentle breeze touched her face as she rose on wobbly legs. She sensed his closeness and fumbled a sneaker-clad foot over the sill. Viselike grips squeezed her forearms and sent her flying backward. A sharp beat of pain shot through her lower back as she landed on the floor.

      "I admire your spunk. But you're no match against me."

      Nausea gripped her. She grasped her stomach and forced down the bile choking her throat. "You promise I go home," she whispered.

     " I didn't lie. I always keep my promises."

       She grasped the rosary's silver crucifix and enfolded it in her hand. "Take me to the airport."

      "No need for a plane. This will do the trick." He grabbed something from inside the opened briefcase.

      She squinted trying to make sense of the object in his hand. A syringe with a long slender needle.

      "I have no other choice. The stakes are too high."

      "Let me go. Please, Senor cura. please."

       He stepped closer, fell to his knees, and grabbed her hand. "You're only making things harder. Trust me."

       His movement had been so quick she barely realized the needle had penetrated her skin.

      "Why you do this?"

      "It's the only way to send you home." He pressed the plunger and emptied the barrel. "For all eternity."