The Byzantine-style church of Mount St. Sepulchre on the grounds of the old Franciscan monastery in Washington, D.C. always looked to me as if it had been plucked from the Holy Land where it had stood in the shadow of a sacred shrine and set down in Brookland, a working-class neighborhood of Craftsman bungalows and wood-framed houses, the way Dorothy’s house landed in Oz. It was nearly the end of a day of meetings when I parked across the street from the main gates, grabbing my camera bag as I got out of the car.
I was here for an appointment with Senator Ursula Gilberti and her beautiful spoiled-child daughter Yasmin, yet another discussion of what photographs they expected me to take in the monastery’s magnificent gardens when (please God, finally) Yasmin married Austrian Archduke Victor Haupt-von Véssey here in June. Me, I thought he was making a mistake—but it was none of my business.
Let me be clear: I, Sophie Medina, am not a wedding photographer. Whether the bridal gown should be Alençon or Guipure lace or the bouquet an old-fashioned Biedermier arrangement or a nosegay are not my areas of expertise. But here are some things I do know: the difference between a hijab and a shayla because I have worn them both to cover my hair when working in Muslim countries and—this is important—how to distinguish live gunfire from fireworks or merely a car backfiring.
For the last twelve years before I moved home to Washington I lived in London, working for an international news agency that parachuted me into war zones and world hotspots, photographing heads of state, two popes, Cannes movie stars, and assorted royalty, none of whom required as much stage managing as this wedding. But I couldn’t turn down Victor when he asked me to do this favor, especially when Brother Kevin Boyle, a mutual friend who lived here at the monastery, had seconded the request.
Earlier this morning I’d gone to the Tidal Basin to meet Kevin, a controversial environmentalist and bestselling author, where we’d walked along the promenade under the bare branches of Washington’s famous cherry trees. As partial payback for saddling me with Ursula Gilberti’s micromanaging demands, Kevin promised to help me put together a coffee table photo book of D.C. gardens for a charity fundraiser.
But when I arrived he’d looked worried. “Someone has been following me for the past couple of days, Soph,” he said. “Maybe they’re here right now, watching us.”
I shuddered and looked around. Washington in late March can be temperamental and fickle. Some days the weather is glorious and the warm, silky breeze makes you believe it’s finally spring. Or it can be like today, when the wind slices like a knife and the damp chill settles into your bones. Just now there was no one at this memorial except the two of us.
“Kevin,” I said, “first, are you sure? And second, why?”
“I found something while I was doing research for a new book,” he said. “At least, I think I did. If I’m right, it could be worth millions, maybe billions, to the right people.”
I caught my breath. “What is it?”
“Can’t tell you,” he said. “Until I’m positive I’m right.”
And then he was gone.
By the time I spotted the little key near the old stone lantern that had once belonged to a shogun, Kevin was out of sight. Had he dropped it, or did it fall from the pocket of one of the women who’d been inspecting the lantern just before we arrived? Either way, I could show up early for my monastery meeting with Ursula and Yasmin and ask him. But though I saw his car on the street, the security guard at the entrance to the friars’ residence hadn’t seen him and suggested I check the garden and its many shrines.
What made the monastery unique—and because the Franciscans had been caretakers of the Holy Land’s sacred sites ever since the Crusades—was a decision when it was built in the late 1800s to create exact reproductions, down to the last detail, of those same shrines here in Washington. Meaning it is possible to “visit” the grotto at Lourdes, the Tomb of Christ, and the house in Old Cairo where Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived in exile, among other places. Some called it Catholic Disneyland; others found peace and serenity in a beautiful garden.
I searched everywhere for Kevin, but the grounds were empty at five o’clock in the afternoon. By the time I found him, he was lying outside the Gethsemane Grotto—where Jesus prayed on his last night—and I was too late.
Now I had his key—and a puzzle. What had been so valuable to someone who had taken a vow of poverty that he needed to hide it, especially living in a house whose only residents were religious men of God?
Before long I had my answer and it led to an international treasure hunt. Because whoever had murdered Kevin was now after me.
You can read more about Sophie in Ghost Image, the second book in the “Sophie Medina” mystery series, published by Scribner. The first book in the series is Multiple Exposure.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 12 a.m. eastern on April 29 for the chance to win a copy of Ghost Image. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Winner will be notified within 48 hours after giveaway closes and you will have three days to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected. Make sure to check your SPAM folder.
Meet the author
Ellen Crosby is the author of Multiple Exposure and Ghost Image (Scribner, April 2015), a mystery series featuring international photojournalist Sophie Medina. She has also written six books in the Virginia wine country mystery series and Moscow Nights, a standalone mystery published in the UK. Previously she worked as a freelance reporter for The Washington Post, Moscow correspondent for ABC News Radio, and as an economist at the U.S. Senate. Learn more about her at www.ellencrosby.com, on Facebook and on Twitter. Photo credit: Jackie Briggs