Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot
And student tour guides were better at fielding the pricklier questions, like Jesse’s tense: “When can we meet this famous Father Francisco we’ve heard so much about?”
“Oh, sorry,” Sidney said, batting her long, dark eyelashes (she wore extensions and a good deal of dark eyeliner, but I’m sure it fooled a lot of the parents). “He’s in San Luis Obispo today at a conference.”
I knew the conference Father Francisco was allegedly attending—the same one Father Dominic had gone to—had ended Wednesday night. He’d either extended his trip so it could include a few nights of gambling in Vegas, or he didn’t want to waste his valuable time chitchatting with a couple of prospective parents.
I’d put my money on the former. Most private schools no longer considered themselves educational institutions, but small profit-making corporations, and couldn’t afford to blow off potential investors.
Sidney had charmingly explained to us that giving tours was one of her favorite things to do because “it gets me out of calculus” and “will look good on my college applications.” Her dream was to go to Yale and become the “greatest actress since Meryl Streep.”
Sidney had nothing to worry about. She was well on her way.
“How long have you attended Sacred Trinity?” I asked Sidney as we made our way toward the heated stables. I’d asked to see them as “Penelope” had a pony.
“Since kindergarten,” Sidney said. “I love it here so much. My parents live in San Francisco. I see them on weekends. But I’d much rather be here than in the city. Too crowded.”
Sell it, Sidney.
“So you would have been here when that girl died,” I said casually as the barn and stables, plus riding ring, came into view, the stables large but tidy, painted white with green trim, the barn done in traditional cliché—but attractive—red barn paint. “What was her name, darling?” I squeezed Jesse’s arm. I was leaning on it because it was difficult to walk on the school’s gravel paths in my high-heeled pumps. “That poor girl who died? Lucy something?”
“Lucia,” Jesse said, right on cue. He appeared immune to Sidney’s charms.
“Oh, God.” Sidney’s red plaid uniform skirt swayed sassily ahead of us on the path. “Yes. Lucia Martinez. I’ll never forget it. What a nightmare. I was a year ahead of her. But they still made us all take, like, bereavement classes to make sure we weren’t going to go mental or whatever.”
Then she seemed to remember to whom she was speaking and flashed a quick embarrassed smile over her shoulder. “Not, you know, that it wasn’t completely terrible, what happened to her. Horseback-riding accident. But nothing like that would ever happen to your daughter. It was a completely freak accident. It could never happen again.”
“Yes,” I said, remembering what Becca had said she was tired of hearing everyone say: “ ‘Accidents happen.’ I’m sure.”
By that time we were at the stables. As fortune had it, a lesson was going on. A strong-looking older woman in jodhpurs was standing in the middle of a grassy ring, directing six or seven girls on extremely healthy-looking mounts.
“Ms. Dunleavy.” Sidney called to her from the white wooden fence. “I have some nice people here who’d like to meet you.”
Jennifer Dunleavy—I recognized the name from the newspaper article CeeCee had sent me about Lucia’s death—walked over to the side of the fence where Jesse and I leaned, inhaling the not unpleasant smells of horse and fresh-cut grass and hay. She removed a glove to shake our hands as Sidney expertly introduced us. Jennifer Dunleavy’s grip was firm but not overwhelming.
“Dr. and Mrs. Baracus’s little girl has a pony,” Sidney explained. “If they decide to enroll her here, they’d be interested in boarding it.”
“Great,” Jennifer said with a big smile that looked sincere. “We definitely have the space. I’ve got a lesson right now, as you can see, but Mike can show you around. Mike!” She called to a hired hand who was holding a paint can, doing touch-ups. He smiled and began strolling over.
“Oh,” I said quickly. “My friend’s stepdaughter took riding lessons here for a time, and she said there was the most marvelous man who had the most amazing touch. What was his name again, darling?” I squeezed Jesse’s arm again.
“Jimmy,” Jesse said woodenly. I could tell he was ready to hit someone, though not anyone present at the current moment.
“That’s right,” I cried. “Jimmy! Is Jimmy still here? I’d love to meet Jimmy, if I could, and for him to show us around.”
Jennifer’s face clouded over. For a moment I thought it was because the name disturbed her. Then I realized her clouded expression might only have been because she couldn’t place the name right away.
“Oh, Jimmy,” she said at last. “You must mean Jim Delgado.”
And just like that, I had a last name for Becca’s tormentor and Lucia’s murderer. I tried not to squeeze Jesse’s arm too hard in my excitement.
“Oh, that’s right,” I said. “Delgado. Jimmy Delgado.”
“But good grief,” Jennifer went on. “He hasn’t worked here in nearly a decade.”
I didn’t bother hiding my disappointment. I figured a rich lady like Mrs. Baracus wouldn’t hide her feelings. She’d definitely pout if a store didn’t have her favorite brand, or a rich private school no longer employed her favorite child killer.
“Oh,” I said. “What a shame. Mrs. Walters said so many good things about him, too.”
Jennifer’s eyebrows went up questioningly at the name.
“Yes. That’s my friend. Lance Arthur Walters’s wife, Kelly Walters, of Wal-Con Aeronautics. Surely you remember. Her stepdaughter went here for a time . . . Becca Walters?”
I saw Sidney make a slight moue of distaste at Becca’s name. Well, Becca had never been a very popular girl.
But then, none of them were aware that Becca had had good reason to make herself as inconspicuous as possible: Jimmy Delgado.
“Such a lovely couple,” I went on. “We met on a committee to raise money for breast cancer research. Kelly just couldn’t stop raving about this school and of course Jimmy’s horse-handling skills. What a shame. I don’t suppose you know where Jimmy Delgado went?”
I felt Jesse gently squeeze my elbow. He knew I was lying about Kelly, and also laying it on too thick.
But what Jesse doesn’t know—because he has too much integrity, which is one of the reasons I love him so much—is that there’s no such thing as laying it on too thick when it comes to people who are only interested in you for your money.
“Well,” Jennifer said, looking truly regretful. “I do know where he is, but I’m afraid it won’t do you any good, Mrs. Baracus. Jim Delgado doesn’t work with horses anymore.”
“You know where he is?” Jesse couldn’t hide his surprise.
“Sure,” she said with a laugh. “Jimmy’s still right here in town. I see him all the time. But good luck trying to get him back into horse handling. He came into some money awhile ago, and now he owns his own business. Delgado Photography Studio. He specializes in children’s portraits.”
If anyone at the school noticed that the wife of wealthy plastic surgeon Dr. Baracus looked a little tight-lipped as her husband hurried her back to their BMW, they didn’t mention it. They probably thought I was nauseous from having another bun in the oven.
To them, this must have been good news: Penelope Baracus was getting a potential baby sister! This meant more tuition money for them later down the line. Ka-ching!
But once we’d gotten safely in the parking lot and could no longer be overheard, I let loose. With word vomit, not actual vomit, since by then I’d found some chewable antacids in my bag—along with the various other items I’d shoved in there back at my apartment—and was concentrating on chomping them down, one by one. The chalky coating on my tongue kept me from tasting the bile that kept rising in the back of my throat.
“What the hell?” I didn’t say
“Take it easy, Susannah,” Jesse said in his smooth, deep voice. “This is good news. It will only make it easier for the police to arrest him after Becca tells them what she knows.”
“The police?” I was shocked at his naïveté, though I suppose I shouldn’t have been. The police routinely got involved in his abuse cases at the hospital. As a medical practitioner, he was required to notify them, and they were required to respond. “Jesse, Becca could barely tell me what happened, and I’m hardly an authority figure. She found it easier to articulate that the guy had given her candy—candy—than that he’d molested her, which is completely normal for a survivor of abuse, but I honestly don’t see her being able to go to the cops about any of this soon. And even if she were to, there’s not a shred of evidence to connect Jimmy Delgado to Lucia’s murder. Becca didn’t actually see him kill her. And it’s not like Lucia can testify.”
“But Delgado threatened to kill Becca’s parents if she told anyone what he did to her.”
“Sure, he threatened to. He threatened to do a lot of things, but he never did any of them, except what he did to Lucia, which we can’t prove. Even the things he did to Becca are her word against his, and she’s a kid who, thanks to me, now thinks the ghost of her best friend’s been following her around for the past decade. If she opens up her mouth about that, no one’s going to believe anything else she says. I definitely screwed the pooch on that one.”
We’d gotten into the car, where I began pulling off my uncomfortable pumps, one by one, and hurling them to the floor. Jesse watched me with one eyebrow raised in amusement. “Screwed the pooch?”
“Yeah. It means messed up. It’s more polite than saying—well, you can figure it out.”
Now one corner of his mouth went up. “I think you’re being too hard on yourself.”
“Am I? If we’re to believe what that Dunleavy woman says, Delgado’s a respectable business owner. He’s got the money to hire a good defense attorney, one who’d rip Becca to shreds in five minutes on the stand, given her current state of mind. And what are the chances Becca’s parents are going to allow that to happen? Zip.”
Jesse’s half smile vanished. “But a photographer of children? You know what that means, Susannah.”
“Yeah. About that.” I pulled my phone from my bag and scrolled to the article about Lucia’s death. “Becca said he used to do lots of things for the school, not just work in the stables. Take another look at that photo of Lucia.”
Jesse took the phone from me and stared at the photo. “What am I supposed to be seeing?”
“The photo credit. The print’s really tiny, but as soon as I heard it, I knew the name sounded familiar.”
“ ‘Photo by James Delgado,’” he read aloud, then glanced at me. “Nombre de Dios.”
“Right? They probably thought they could save a few bucks by having their friendly amateur photographer-slash-handyman, Jimmy Delgado, do the school photos that year. All they’d have to pay was printing costs. It was right after Father Francisco started and the school was in all that financial trouble, as we know from our little tour.”
“No wonder Lucia looks so solemn,” Jesse said softly. “She knew Becca’s secret. And his.”
“Of course it doesn’t prove anything, either, but if he did murder her, wouldn’t the coroner have—?”
“You told me that Becca said Jimmy’s tall. A broken neck would look the same to a coroner who didn’t know to suspect foul play, whether she’d suffered a violent fall from a horse or been thrown to the ground by a tall man who wanted her dead.”
“That’s what Lucia says happened.”
A muscle leaped in Jesse’s jaw. “So exhuming the body would be useless. Any DNA evidence he might have left would be destroyed by now by the embalming process and by time. But what about the money?”
“Delgado got the money from somewhere to suddenly quit his job at the stables and open his own business. The timing is right. While I’m guessing there wasn’t enough money from the sale of that library flooring to open a photography studio, I think Father Francisco got the money from somewhere to bribe Delgado to leave Sacred Trinity and keep his mouth shut about what he did to Lucia.”
“Yes,” I said, after thinking about it. “You’re right. Father Francisco only pretended not to believe Becca’s confession. He must have gone straight from the chapel to Delgado and told him he’d have to leave. Sacred Trinity was already in bad financial straits. They couldn’t afford another scandal.”
“And Delgado demanded money in exchange for leaving without a fuss.” Jesse switched on the ignition and backed the car from the parking lot. “And once again, thanks to Father Francisco, Sacred Trinity was saved.”
“Amazing Father Francisco.” I stared grimly at the neat rows of Italian cypress trees as we headed down the school’s driveway back toward 17-Mile Drive. “Is there no miracle he can’t perform?”
“Yes. One. He can’t hide the money trail from him to Delgado. Somewhere there has got to be a record of it—the priest withdrawing it, and Delgado depositing it.”
“A lot of donations made to churches are in cash, as you well know. You’ve seen the collection plate as it goes around.” As Jesse’s bride-to-be, I occasionally tagged along when he went to church to give a good impression to the local bishop, since we needed his permission to marry in the mission basilica (I must have done a good job since we got it—though a fat lot of good it was going to do us now).
“And even if Father Francisco did write Delgado a check,” I went on, determined to keep my mind on the matter at hand, “it doesn’t connect either of them to Lucia’s death. It’s still Becca’s word against theirs. There’s no evidence, Jesse.”
“No.” He eased the BMW out into the traffic on 17-Mile Drive. “That leaves us with only one option.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Look up where Delgado Photography Studio is, then tell Lucia. Then she can do to Jimmy what she did to me in the pool the other night. Let’s bring lawn chairs and a six-pack so we can watch. It’ll be more fun than the fireworks on Fourth of July.”
“No.” Now more than one muscle was leaping in Jesse’s jaw. “Don’t tell Lucia. I’ll take care of Delgado.”
“You?” I whipped off Becca’s glasses, squinting at him in the late-afternoon sunlight. “I was kidding about sending Lucia after Jimmy.”
“Well, I’m not.” Jesse gripped the wheel more tightly, and not because people were driving like maniacs, although they were, it being a Friday afternoon in Northern California. “This isn’t a job for a child.”
“Well, it isn’t a job for you, either.”
“Why not? I killed a man once. I’d be more than happy to do so again, in this case. Or two men, actually.”
“You killed a man once, Jesse, because he was about to kill you, and me, too. This isn’t the same.”
“Because that was self-defense. This is vigilantism.”
“Well, in some cases a little vigilantism is necessary. Delgado needs to be stopped, and so does the priest.”
I was more thankful than ever I hadn’t told him about Paul.
“That may be true, but not this way, and certainly not by you. You swore an oath to do no harm, remember?”
“If destroying a monster prevents it from doing harm to others, and preserving the quality of life of the rest of my patients, I’m upholding that oath. That’s how physicians who administer lethal injections to prisoners on death row justify their actions.”
Whoa. I’d thought last night that he was making progress when he’d told me how it felt to be dead, unable to reach out to the people he’d loved.
But this wasn’t progress. This was premeditation . . . something with which I was not unfamiliar,
“Okay,” I said, hanging on to the passenger door. He was taking the hairpin curves along the sea at an impressive clip now that the traffic was thinning out. “Well, I guess that’s what you’d better do, then. Go ahead and take out Jimmy and the priest. I’ll enjoy CeeCee’s headline: “ ‘Young Physician Wastes Promising Future with Sizzling Hot Wife by Murdering Scumbags.’ ”
Jesse didn’t laugh. “Someone has to do it, Susannah.”
“Yeah, but like I said, that someone doesn’t have to be you. Your job is to save lives, not take them.”
“Like I said, sometimes by taking one, you can save others. And if I don’t do it, who will? You?”
“Why not me? It’s not like . . .”
I clamped my mouth shut, realizing what I’d been about to cavalierly admit to Jesse: that I’d been contemplating killing Paul ever since I’d received that e-mail from him. The only reason I’d agreed to have dinner with him was because afterward, when we retired to his hotel room for “dessert,” I planned to mediate him, permanently.
But this was another thing a girl should keep secret, right? There’s no reason for her intended to know everything about her.
“Never mind,” I murmured, looking out over the sea. It had been burnished amber by the sun, slowly sinking toward the west. The sky, the beaches, the water—the whole area, as far as the eye could see, was glowing with the same golden sheen as Lucia’s hair . . .
Saint Lucia is the one they always show wearing a crown of lit candles around her head, usually at Christmastime. She’d supposedly worn the candles around her head in order to be hands-free while leading hundreds of Christians to freedom through the darkness of the catacombs beneath Rome, a job not unlike my own, leading the souls of the dead to the light of the afterlife.
Remembrance by Meg Cabot / Romance & Love / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes