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Examination of Conscience

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Chris pushes back the hood of her jacket, face cold and wet and hair curling damp against her neck. If they weren't in a church she'd be cursing this godforsaken--bless me father, she thinks, and dips her finger in holy water to make the sign of the cross--weather. But they are in a church, waiting for Monsignor Kelly to introduce them to Sister Mary-Something-or-Other, so she steadies herself. Breathes. Mary Beth bustles behind her, footsteps loud in her winter boots.

"They're doing a potluck after the last Mass next Sunday," Mary Beth says. "Judith's bringing the plastic utensils, looks like."

Chris turns. Mary Beth's reading the Parish Bulletin, making a face like she's judging everyone who has ever deigned to bring paper goods to a potluck instead of making their nonna's famous baked ziti from scratch.

"Good for Judith," Chris says.

Mary Beth wrinkles her nose. "Hey," she says, "I'm not the one who thinks she's good for this thing, you know. I still think it's that Mr. Tracy fella? You know, the weird guy with the mustache in 12D who claims he was watching TV all afternoon. Guy's probably got a whole stash of stolen St. Christopher medals and bibles and stuff in a storage unit in Jersey somewhere."

"Too obvious," Chris says.

"Sometimes obvious is obvious because it's just the way it is," Mary Beth says. She taps her heel against the wall, tries to shake off some of the sludge.

The Monsignor coughs. Pointedly. Chris's spine straightens of its own accord; she feels a pull to drop to her knees, recite three decades of the rosary and pray for forgiveness. She slouches instead. Tucks her hands into her coat pockets.

"Monsignor," Mary Beth says. "And...?"

The nun standing next to Monsignor Kelly is young, younger than Chris tends to picture nuns (not that she really thinks about them much at all anymore). Young and pretty, rosy cheeked and smiling. She has dimples.

"Sister Margaret Pat," she says. She holds out her hand, and Mary Beth reaches out to shake it.

"Detective Mary Beth Lacey," Mary Beth says.

"Detective Cagney," Chris says. She pulls her right hand from her pocket and shakes Sister Margaret Pat's hand. She has a firm handshake. Respectable, businesslike.

"Monsignor Kelly said you needed to ask me questions about something," Sister Margaret Pat says. Her lips are preternaturally pink. Chris wonders if she's wearing lipstick or if her lips are just naturally that color. Maybe they're chapped; it is winter, after all.

Chris licks her own lip, worries at the split skin where she smiled too wide at her latest failed relationship. (His teeth were crooked. Yellowing. Chris smiled and smiled and jumped in a cab before he could try for a kiss, washed his phone number away with the laundry.)

"Is there somewhere more private we can," Mary Beth asks. Lets the rest of the sentence dangle, lets them fill in their own blanks.

"Oh, right, you can use the parish office, it's just over," Monsignor Kelly says. He starts walking, expects them all to follow; they do. Their footsteps echo, and Chris smells the memory of incense every time she inhales. The office is grim, even after the Monsignor flicks on the overhead lights, dusty and sporting ugly green carpeting.

The desk looks like it'll topple over if anyone breathes on it, but the chair behind it looks old and sturdy. Chris claims it for herself. Mary Beth offers Sister Margaret Pat the guest chair.

"Thank you, Monsignor," Mary Beth says. She smiles that smile of hers that Chris is convinced would charm the pants off a, well, a priest. The Monsignor nods and glances over at Sister Margaret Pat as he leaves the room.

*

"I told you," Mary Beth says.

"Mary Beth," Chris says.

"I told you," Mary Beth repeats. "It was Mr. 12D who did it, and your Judith was at choir practice just like she said."

Chris catches herself slipping on a patch of icy mud, hands and arms windmilling to stay upright. She scrapes her palm against the corner of a building, but doesn't fall. "Fuck," she says.

"You okay?" Mary Beth is as solicitous as always; hand on Chris's lower back and face maternal and concerned.

"Yeah, fine," Chris says.

"Come on," Mary Beth says. She steers Chris under a nearby awning and starts plucking at her gloves. They stick; they're good leather, expensive, but just a little too tight around her fingers. "Help me get these off so we can make sure you're not bleeding."

"I'm not bleeding," Chris says. Snaps. She pulls her hands away from Mary Beth and stuffs them in her pockets. "Jesus Christ, Mary Beth, I'm fine."

Mary Beth takes a step back, holds up her arms. "Okay," she says, "I give up. Bleed all over the inside of your designer gloves for all I care."

Chris stalks to the car. Calms down as she jams the key into the lock, pulls the door open. By the time she's settled in the driver's seat, biting her gloves off while the engine warms up, she's forgotten she was ever upset to begin with.

The passenger door sticks when Mary Beth tries to open it. Once, twice, third time's a charm; she shuffles inside, her winter coat crackling like tinsel. She tests the heat--it blows out cold and dry--and turns the knob back as quickly as she can.

"I don't know about you," she says, "But I'm ready for a nice long vacation in Florida right about now. Maybe take the boys to Disney, say hey to Mickey and get a suntan."

"Drinks by the pool," Chris says. She checks behind her and pulls out into traffic. Almost slams into the cab that stops short in front of her. She rolls down the window, sticks her head out. "Pay attention to the road, or I'll fucking ticket you!" she yells.

She rolls the window back up. They sit in traffic all the way back to the precinct, and the heater spits out puffs of lukewarm air.

*

"There's something hinky about this," Mary Beth says. She rolls another piece of paper into the typewriter, peers down to make sure the ribbon's straight. It's been curling lately, catching every time Mary Beth tries to type up a witness statement or a fill out a form in triplicate.

"I know," Chris says, "But you know they're never buying us a newer typewriter. No room in the budget for-"

"No," Mary Beth says, "Not the typewriter, this." She holds up her notepad. Waves it around a little bit, drops it to her desk when Chris doesn't immediately know what she's trying to say. "Sister Margaret Pat's interview statement."

"Sister," Chris says. She forces herself to calm down. To breathe. "You're the one who said she seemed honest, that her statement cleared Judith, that it was Mr. 12C-"

"-D," Mary Beth says-

"-E, F, G, whatever," Chris says. "My point, Mary Beth, is that uniforms picked Mr. Tracy up trying to pawn the missing rosaries and they are bringing him here, where we will interrogate him until he confesses. And then I am going to go home and have a drink or ten before I go to sleep."

Her shoulders hurt. Neck tense, head pounding. She flips through her own notes and relaxes when she hears Mary Beth start typing again. Behind her, Isbecki and Petrie bicker about whose turn it is to go on a sandwich run. Chris picks up the parish bulletin Mary Beth left on the edge of her desk, starts flipping through. Wonders what time masses are at the church near her loft; wonders how long she'd have to sit in the confessional before she'd be allowed to take communion. How many decades of the rosary she'd have to pray.

"-Earth to Christine Cagney," Mary Beth says. She waves her hand in Chris's face, and Chris slaps it away.

"Sorry," she says. She glances back down at the bulletin, reads something about choir practice being moved to the school gymnasium because the church was being fumig--"Wait, what exactly did Sister Margaret Pat say about choir practice last Tuesday?"

"Huh?" Mary Beth asks.

Chris flips to the right page in her notepad, reads it three times just to be sure. "Tell me if this is what you have," she says, "Because what I have is that she said, 'Judith was right here'--and she pointed inside, toward the nave--'at choir practice. She's an alto, we were rehearsing for Christmas,' and then she started talking about carols."

Mary Beth reads her notes. Nods. "Yep," she says.

"Okay, but," and Chris passes the bulletin to Mary Beth, finger pointing to the fumigation announcement, "Choir practice was in the school gym that night, says so right here. Which means-"

"Fuck," Mary Beth says. Her eyes pop out, and she slaps her hand over her mouth. "Oh god," she says, looking even more distraught, "We're going to have to arrest a nun. I'm going to hell."

"You and me both," Chris says. She pulls on her coat as she stands, grabs her hat and scarf and gun and marches out into the cold. Mary Beth behind her every step of the way.

*

"You ever think about becoming a nun, Mary Beth?" Chris asks.

Judith and Sister Margaret Pat are sitting on the steps of St. Vincent's, hands cuffed behind their backs. Bags of stolen religious paraphernalia--candles, mezuzot, rosaries, you name it, it went missing around those two--piled up on either side of them.

"Eh," Mary Beth says, "I wanted to be a nun right up until Bobby Cirillo held my hand in fourth grade Catechism."

Chris laughs. "I lasted all the way to high school," she says. "Drinking, dating, I figured I could get it all out of the way while I was young and then take my vows. Wasn't until I, well, you know--anyway, point is, all of a sudden chastity didn't seem so fun."

"I can't imagine it did," Mary Beth says in that prudish tone of voice she gets sometimes when Chris so much as hints at having sex. Because she's such a saint, after all. Chris stands up. Paces back and forth a few times, watching for their backup, forcing herself to calm down. No point in putting on a show for the sisters of the holy thieves over there.

"Right." A black and white pulls up to the curb, and two uniforms start to get out. "Finally!" Chris says. She takes the steps two at a time, puts her hand out to greet them when she's still a few feet out.

She can hear Mary Beth talking to their perps while she instructs the uniforms, telling them to get up. To come with her. Sister Margaret Pat slips on the slushy sidewalk, wobbles without hands to steady herself, and Mary Beth grabs her. Holds her upright.

"C'mon," Mary Beth says.

"All of those bags back there need to come to the station," Chris explains. "They're full of stolen property, so they'll need to be catalogued. You do it or dump it on someone else, I don't care, just make sure we have a list of everything in there on our desks bright and early tomorrow."

"These two," Mary Beth says, gesturing at her charges, "Know that they're under arrest, know they've got the right to be silent--and boy are they taking advantage of that right, not a peep outta either of them since we caught them trying to hotwire the parish van."

"Let them stew in lockup overnight," Chris says.

Mary Beth passes them over to one of the uniforms--a young guy, freckled and redheaded and straight out of Charlie's days on the force--and he walks them over to the black and white. The rest of them go to get the evidence from the church steps. Gather it up and stow it in the trunk of the car.

"You know the Monsignor's watching us from the entryway, right?" Mary Beth asks. Chris looks up at the church. Sure enough, there's Monsignor Kelly, staring at them like he's casting judgment right then and there. Backlit by the church lights and cassock flapping in the wind.

Chris waves at him. Smiles broadly and starts to walk back toward the church. Mary Beth hisses her name. Pulls her away.

"I just want to ask a few questions," Chris says.

"And you can do so after we've finished interviewing the two fine women currently on their way to be booked," Mary Beth says. "Preferably with some warning, and during daylight."

"Spoilsport," Chris says.

"Realistic about the power of the church, more like," Mary Beth says. Chris yawns. Jaw cracking, and eyes watering. "Also exhausted, and late for dinner. Harv was going to heat up some of the frozen sauce tonight. You're welcome to come with."

"No thanks," Chris says. Her hands are cold and dry, but she doesn't feel like pulling on her gloves. She blows on them. Hops a couple of times to try to get warm. "I have leftover Chinese in the fridge at home." And she can eat it in front of the TV, sitting in bed if she wants. Which maybe she does.

"Up to you," Mary Beth says. She ushers Chris back to the car, hand against Chris's lower back to keep her steady. They climb in--"You drive," Chris says, mid-yawn--and the car grumbles to life after a false start. They pull out into traffic. Chris twists around in her seat and watches the church lights wash away in the freezing rain.