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© 2012 Honora Finkelstein & Susan Smily
Ariel Quigley Mysteries

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Mexico City, 1991

     He had hunkered in the shadows of some sweet-smelling jasmine bushes for nearly an hour, anticipating the  arrival of his prey. As usual, he was wearing black clothing, and the skin on his face and hands was darkened with shoe  polish. He kept his eyes focused only on the path that wound through the ornamental garden, priding himself on his  ability to do the job at hand without emotional involvement.      He'd had a pleasant day. He'd wandered around the city soaking up local color and Hispanic culture. He'd seen a  lot of Diego Rivera-style murals, had listened to mariachi music in several outdoor venues, had enjoyed a really superb  lunch of chicken enchiladas with mole sauce, and had taken a city tour in English that had a surprising amount of really  interesting historic information.  Someday he'd like to come back to Mexico City on a real vacation. The only thing that  bothered him was the somewhat smoggy air from the exhaust of too many autos with too few pollution controls.      But here, above the center of the city, on an estate set on the slope of a higher hill, the air was relatively sweet  and exhaust-fume free. And so he waited patiently, still savoring the pleasure of his day and enjoying the sweetness of  the jasmine. Hearing footsteps coming down the path, he shifted to a crouch and mentally prepared himself to spring. The one  he'd been waiting for was finally returning home. Once the footsteps had just passed his hiding place, he silently rose  and pounced, grabbing the small, dark-skinned man from behind, dragging him into the bushes, and forcing him to his  knees.     "Please, Señor," the man whimpered. "Why are you doing this? I know nothing. I've done nothing."      "It's nothing personal," the killer said softly in a conversational tone. "It's an assignment. And why me? Because I  have the stomach for these kinds of assignments. Besides," he said, pulling the little man's head backward to steady it  against his body, "I have a spiritual purpose. I'm sure you can appreciate that," he said, fingering the crucifix on the  chain around the man's neck. "So if you like, say a prayer." Drawing his knife, he pressed the blade to his victim's  throat.     He waited only a few seconds, then with one swift movement he drew the knife across the man's throat, watched  the blood spurt from his jugular, and lowered him gently to the ground.      The assassin straightened up and lifted the weapon. "There's more than one meaning to the term 'wet work'," he  said. Slowly, he drew the knife toward his face and gently touched the tip of his tongue to the already congealing blood  on the blade. Then he held it high in the air in front of him and chanted a few words of a strange incantation.      He wiped the blade on the little man's jacket and sheathed his knife. Then he placed his right hand over the Kali  pendant that hung on a silver chain around his neck, resting on his heart. 

Chapter 1

Friday, October 17th, Twelve Years Later

I was in the middle of my last class of the day, teaching the background of an early piece of feminist writing, Sor  Juana Inés de la Cruz's The Answer, a letter written in Mexico in the 1690s.  "Sor Juana Inés was a scholar, a poet, and a very well-known author. In those days, women couldn't get the brilliant  kind of education you people are getting." A couple of people tittered, and I grinned.  "Unlike most of the women of her day, she wanted to study instead of getting married. She'd even begged her  mother to let her dress up like a man so she could go to the university in disguise."  One of the guys, looking around the room at all the female students in pants, said, "And this has changed how?"  Another fellow interjected, "None of us wants to get married. We'd all much rather study."  I grinned again. "Well, I have to tell you, as a feminist, a scholar, a poet, and a not very well-known author who  joined the Army in order to get an education, I identify with Sor Juana Inés, who had to go into the convent to be able to  study!  And while I was in the Army during Desert Storm, I did dress up like a man-much more so than any of you  ladies. I'll tell you, studying beats the heck out of guard duty in the desert." There was another ripple of laughter from my students.   "Anyway, in the convent Sor Juana got herself into a spot of trouble for mouthing off too much about a famous male  writer's work, criticizing his arguments. For the benefit of her sisters at the convent, she wanted to point out his errors.  But wouldn't you know it, the day she was delivering her criticism of the work, the local bishop decided to visit. He  asked her for a copy of her disputation, so she had to write it up and send it to him, begging him as she did so that it be  for his eyes only. "The bishop, who decided Sister Juana Inés was a bit too arrogant, sent it to press and distributed it widely. Then,  under the pretense of being another nun, he sent her a letter of advice-warning her to stop studying, stop writing poetry,  and stop arguing with men or speaking in public. Sor Juana Inés knew the letter was from the bishop and realized she  might be in trouble with the Spanish Inquisition."  "What was that?" asked a student in the back of the room. A girl on the front row answered, "It was a Roman Catholic police force, mostly run by the Dominican order, that  sought out heretics and generally burned them at the stake in order to cleanse them of their sins."  Another girl added tartly, "Yeah, heretics like Jews, gypsies, women with brains, men with money-sinners like that!" "Yes, exactly right! It was a pretty scary time," I said. "One historian estimates nine million women were burned at  the stake for witchcraft over a four-hundred-year period. Mostly these women were midwives, herbal healers, and as  you said, women with brains."  "Nine million women?" echoed a female voice, as the class lapsed into stunned silence.  "Yes," I said, "it was really mass legalized execution of anyone the Church disapproved of, and if they called  someone a witch, nobody argued."  Just at that moment, there was a little tapping at the door. "Excuse me," I said jokingly, "the Dominicans are here to take me into custody." I opened the classroom door to a student assistant, who handed me a note. "Dr. Quigley, Dean Riordan would like  to see you as soon as class is over." “Thanks," I said, taking the note, looking at my watch, and nodding. "I'll be up at the end of the hour." Then I shut  the door and turned back to the class. "You see, it was the Dominicans." And everybody laughed again.  Copyright © 2007 Honora Finkelstein and Susan Smily