Chapter 24

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One side of the street was the home of clothing boutiques, furniture stores and cheap hotels. In sharp contrast, the other side was jammed tight with souvenir shops and small eateries. Bumper to bumper, cars parked on both sides of the street, making it a tight squeeze for traffic. Their driver stopped in front of an ancient building pressed next to a souvenir shop. Scaffolding covered the front of the building, hinting at possible masonry work, and making the sign "Indian Mission of St. Francis" invisible from the street. With their car stopped, traffic was no longer able to move in the one lane. This gridlock started a chorus of horns, which had no resemblance to an angelic choir. The driver placed their suitcases on the sidewalk, and then told them to push the doorbell and wait. Someone would come to let them enter. He then hastily departed, putting an end to the traffic tie-up and the blaring of horns, at least for the moment.

They lifted their suitcases through the scaffolding and up the two steps. Borders pushed the doorbell that connected to a buzzer somewhere in the building. After some minutes, a small hatch was opened, and a brown face appeared. In an Indian accent, he asked who they were. Borders explained. The brown face told them to go to the second floor. The buzzer sounded, and Borders pushed the door open.

A small antechamber of marble greeted them, where a narrow staircase hung on one side and next to it an elevator. Borders pushed the button for the elevator. When the door opened, the two men stared upon the smallest elevator they had ever seen. With difficulty, they squeezed themselves and the luggage into the space meant solely for one person. The door closed, and the vehicle slowly rose, straining noisily on ancient chains, eventually stopping at the second floor.

The opening door finally ground its way open to an antechamber similar to the one below. This time, there were right and left hallways under dark shadows. A small brown man with bright eyes and sparkling teeth greeted them. Borders couldn't help but notice the Roman collar.

"Good afternoon," said Borders, then repeated by Hill

"Good afternoon," said the priest. "I am Father Luke. Your room is this way," he said, gesturing to the left. A small Indian woman skirted past them. The housekeeper, Borders assumed. They followed the priest down the hallway, stopping at the second door. He turned an old-fashioned skeleton key to open up a room that was dark and silent. The Spartan interior made Borders think of a monk's cell. It had two beds with a side table between them. In one corner stood and old armoire – its darkness resembled the room. One curtained window overlooked a side street.

"I am in the chapel down the hallway. When you have settled in, come and get me, and I will take you to Father Joseph." He left the room on bare feet, silent as the dead.

Thirty minutes later, Borders and Hill walked to the chapel. Father Luke heard them approach and pointed them back to the other hallway to a room with a closed door. He knocked on the door, and they entered. Another priest sitting on a bed greeted them - Father Joseph. He was a small dissipated old man, his skin like dark transparent paper. He sat on the bed, wrapped in a dhoti, which at one time may have been white, but now was gray, sprinkled with red smears. Borders surmised that the red smears were probably blood, taking his cue from the blood-soaked bandage tied around his left leg. "That's nothing," said the priest, answering Borders's stare.

"What happened?" asked Hill.

"Oh, I slipped on a ladder and a protruding nail tore my leg. Very stupid of me."

"As long as it is not too serious," said Hill.

"No, not too serious," said the priest.

Borders nodded, hoping they didn't see him glance at the dish with the bloodied remains of a slug laying in it.

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