LOREN MUSE WALKED through a time machine.
Revisiting St. Margaret's, her high school alma mater, the cliches applied: The corridors seemed tighter, the ceilings seemed lower, the lockers seemed smaller, the teachers shorter. But others things, the important stuff, did not change too much. Loren fell into a time portal as she entered. She felt the high school tingle in her belly, the constant state of insecurity; the need for both approval and rebellion churned inside of her.
She knocked on Mother Katherine's door.
There was a young girl sitting in the office. She wore the same school uniform that Loren had so many years ago, the white blouse and tartan skirt. God, she'd hated that. The girl had her head down, clearly post-Mother Katherine berate. Her stringy hair hung down in front of her face like a beaded curtain.
Mother Katherine said, "You may go now, Carla."
Shoulders slumped, head still lowered, Carla slinked off. Loren nodded as she passed, as if to say, I feel for ya, sister. Carla did not meet her eye. She closed the door behind her.
Mother Katherine watched all of this with a look both bemused and disheartened, as though she could read Loren's mind. There were stacks of bracelets, all different colors, on her desk. When Loren pointed to them, the bemusement vanished.
"Those bracelets belong to Carla?" Loren asked.
A dress code violation, Loren thought, fighting off the desire to shake her head. Man, this place will never change.
"You haven't heard about this?" Mother Katherine asked.
"Heard about what?"
"The bracelet"- she took a deep breath-"game."
Mother Katherine closed her eyes. "It's a recent... the word would be fad, I believe."
"The different bracelets... I don't even know how to say this... the different colors represent certain acts of a sexual nature. The black one, for example, is supposed to be... uh, for one thing. Then the red one..."
Loren held her hand up. "I think I get the picture. So the girls wear them as some kind of, I don't know, level of achievement?"
"You're not here about this."
"Tell me anyway."
"Girls like Carla wear the bracelets around the boys. If the boy can grab the bracelet off the girl's arm, she must then, well, perform the act that corresponds with the bracelet color."
"Please tell me you're kidding."
Mother Katherine gave her a look as heavy as the ages.
"How old is Carla?" Loren asked.
"Sixteen." Mother Katherine pointed to another set of bracelets as if afraid to touch them. "But I took this set off an eighth grader."
There was nothing to say to that.
Mother Katherine reached behind her. "Here are the phone logs you requested."
The building still had that chalk-dust musk Loren had always associated, until just now, with a certain sort of adolescent naivete. Mother Katherine handed her a small stack of papers.
"Eighteen of us share three phones," Mother Katherine said.
"Six of you to a phone, then?"
Mother Katherine smiled. "And they say we don't teach math anymore."
Loren looked at Christ on the cross behind the Mother Superior's head. She remembered an old joke, one she heard when she first got here. A boy is getting all Ds and Fs in math so his parents send him to Catholic school. On his first report card, his parents are shocked to see their son getting straight As. When his parents ask him why, he says, "Well, when I went into the chapel and saw that guy nailed to a plus sign, I knew they were serious."
Mother Katherine cleared her throat. "May I ask a question?"
"Do they know how Sister Mary Rose died?"
"They're still running tests."
Mother Katherine waited.
"That's all I can tell you right now."
Now it was Loren who waited. When Mother Katherine turned away, Loren said, "You know more than you're saying."
"About Sister Mary Rose. About what happened to her."
"Have you learned her identity yet?"
"No. But we will. Before the end of the day, I'd bet."
Mother Katherine straightened her back. "That would be a good start."
"And there's nothing else you want to tell me?"
"That's correct, Loren."
Loren waited a beat. The old woman was... lying would be too strong a word. But Loren could smell evasion. "Did you go through these calls, Mother?"
"I did. I had the five sisters who shared the phone with her go through them too. Most were to family members, of course. They called siblings, parents, some friends. There were some to local businesses. They order pizza sometimes. Chinese food."
"I thought nuns had to eat, uh, convent food."
"You thought wrong."
"Fair enough," Loren said. "Any numbers that stuck out?"
Mother Katherine's reading glasses dangled from a chain. She slid them onto the end of her nose and beckoned for the sheets. Loren handed them back to her. She studied the first page, licked her finger, moved to the second. She took out a pen and circled something.
She gave the sheet back to Loren. The number had a 973 area code. That would put it in New Jersey, no more than thirty miles from here. The call had been made three weeks ago. It lasted six minutes.
Loren spotted the computer on the credenza behind Mother Katherine's desk. It was weird to think about, the Mother Superior surfing the Web, but it truly seemed as though there were very few holdouts anymore.
"May I borrow your computer?" Loren asked.
Loren tried a simple Google search on the phone number. Nothing.
"Are you looking up the number?" Mother Katherine asked.
"According to the link on the Verizon Web page, the number is unlisted."
Loren looked back at her. "You tried already?"
"I looked up all the numbers."
"I see," Loren said.
"Just to be certain nothing was overlooked."
"That was very thorough of you."
Mother Katherine nodded, kept her head high. "I assume that you have sources to track down unlisted numbers."
"Would you like to see Sister Mary Rose's quarters now?"
The room was pretty much what you'd expect- small, stark, white walls of swirling concrete, one large cross above a single bed, one window. Very dormitory. The room had all the warmth and individuality of a Motel Six. There was almost nothing of a personal nature, nothing that told you anything about the room's inhabitant, almost as if that were Sister Mary Rose's goal.
"The crime-scene technicians will be here in about an hour," Loren said. "They'll need to dust for prints, check for hairs, that kind of thing."
Mother Katherine's hand went slowly to her mouth. "Then you do think Sister Mary Rose was...?"
"Don't read into it, okay?"
Her cell phone trilled. Loren picked it up. It was Eldon Teak.
"Yo, sweetums, you coming by today?" he asked.
"In an hour," she said. "Why, what's up?"
"I found the current owner of our silicone breast manufacturer. SurgiCo is now part of the Lockwood Corporation."
"The huge one in Wilmington?"
"Somewhere in Delaware, yeah."
"Did you give them a call?"
"And it did not go well."
"I told them we had a dead body, a serial number on a breast implant, and that we needed an ID."
"They won't release the information."
"I don't know. They blathered on and on and used the term 'medical privacy' a whole lot."
"That's bullsh-" Mother Katherine's lips pursed. Loren caught herself. "I'll get a court order."
"They're a big company."
"They'll cave on this. They just want legal protection."
"It'll take time."
She thought about that. Eldon had a point. The Lockwood Corporation was out of state. She'd probably need a federal court judge to issue a subpoena.
"Something else," Eldon said.
"At first they seemed to have no problem with any of it. I called down, spoke to someone, she was going to look up the serial number for me. I'm not saying it's routine, but it really shouldn't be a big issue."
"But then some lawyer with a bigwig-sounding name called back and gave me a very terse no."
Loren thought about it. "Wilmington's only, what, two hours from here?"
"The way you drive, maybe fifteen minutes."
"I'm thinking of testing out that theory. You have the name of Mr. Bigwig Lawyer?"
"I got it here somewhere. Oh, wait, yes, Randal Horne of Horne, Buckman and Pierce."
"Call Mr. Horne. Tell him I'm driving down to serve his ass a subpoena."
"You don't have a subpoena."
"You don't know that."
She hung up and placed another call. A woman answered the phone. Loren said, "I need an unlisted number looked up."
"Name and badge number, please."
Loren gave it. Then she read the unlisted phone number Sister Mary Rose had called.
"Please hold," the woman said.
Mother Katherine pretended to be busy. She looked in the air, then across the room. She fiddled with her prayer beads. Through the phone Loren heard fingers clacking a keyboard. Then: "Do you have a pen?"
Loren grabbed a stubby golf pencil from her pocket. She took a gas receipt and flipped it over. "Go ahead."
"The number you requested is listed to a Marsha Hunter at Thirty-eight Darby Terrace, Livingston, New Jersey."