Trouble carves a spot out of the Bayou and threatens to sink Swamp Team 3 plus 1 into its murky depths.
Bubba―a.k.a. Felonius Chance―calls Felicity when one of the Brothers at the monastery goes missing. The monks believe Brother Mike was pulled into the Bayou by Aristotle, their pet gator. But Felonius doesn’t believe Brother Mike was killed by the gator. He thinks his friend got on the wrong side of a whole different kind of predator. And he’s hoping Felly and the intrepid Cal–with the help of Swamp Team 3–can find him before he ends up feeding the fishes in the muddy waters of the Bayou.
Mary Magdalene stood guard over the choir dais, her benevolent gaze focused down on the singers and her hands outstretched as if to say, “What? No Jazz?”
Ida Belle stopped underneath the intricately carved figurine, which hung from the wall between two round-topped windows filled with multi-colored glass. She reached up and ran a finger lovingly over Mary’s hem, her expression rapt. “I remember when they requisitioned this. Of course Celia was in charge of the committee.” Ida Belle shook her head. “I don’t know where she got the money to hire Charlie Spift. We would have killed to have one of his pieces at the Baptist church.”
“I take it he’s expensive?” I asked.
“He’s world famous for his religious statuary,” Gertie agreed. “He even has pieces at the Vatican.”
My eyes widened. “Really? Is this a local guy?”
“He supposedly lives outside of Mudbug,” Ida Belle confirmed. “But nobody’s exactly sure where. He’s kind of a recluse.” She frowned. “I’m not sure what we’re looking for but, whatever it is I sure don’t see it from down here.”
I climbed up onto a pew and did a quick, visual scan over the seven foot tall figurine. “I can’t see much either.”
“Hold on,” Gertie said. She strode away from us, toward the choir dais, heading for the podium that stood in front of the elevated rows of chairs.
“What are you doing?” Fortune asked.
Gertie grabbed the podium and started tugging it. “Help me move this, will you?”
Fortune and I went to help Gertie with the heavy wood podium, carrying it to a spot just beneath the figurine.
“Now what?” Ida Belle asked, looking skeptical.
“I’ll go up.” Fortune lifted her skirts, exposing yoga pants and white sneakers She climbed up onto the end of a pew, stretched a leg toward the podium, and stepped onto its tilted top. Fortune wavered there, the starched butterfly on her head waving its wings as the podium wobbled beneath her.
“I don’t know if that’s going to hold,” I said.
Fortune glared down at me. “I haven’t gained that much weight since coming to Sinful.”
Shrugging, I grabbed one of her flailing hands and Ida Belle grabbed the other. With our steadying grip Fortune was able to swing her other leg up and put her weight on the wobbly lectern.
Fortune stilled as the wood creaked ominously. But it held and, a beat later she was running her hands over the figurine and wrenching around to peer behind it. “Nothing. Wait…there’s a piece of paper stuck to the back.” She slipped two fingers past Mary’s virginal behind and grimaced. “It’s really stuck on there. I’ve almost got it…”
The front door slammed shut and we all jerked guiltily. I whipped around as Celia’s shrill voice called out and inadvertently tugged Fortune off balance. She started to go down but Ida Belle grabbed hold of Fortune’s habit with both hands and Gertie threw herself forward to grab Fortune’s leg.
The glass in the stained glass windows rattled under Celia’s dulcet tones. I jerked my head around as Fortune gasped. Her habit was breaking away at the seams and she was slowly falling toward me. In desperation, I reached up and pressed my hands against her side, shoving with all my strength. For a beat she seemed to steady, but then the podium began to tilt and her eyes widened as it started to roll out from under her feet.
Fast, heavy footsteps sounded in the foyer. “Sisters? Where are you?”
The podium crashed sideways, toppling Gertie to the ground. Ida Belle barely jumped out of the way in time and I fell forward as Fortune leapt straight up, her weight disappearing.
I sprawled over the fallen lectern, eliciting a deep grunt of pain from Gertie as I smashed it into her ribs. Rolling to my back, I rubbed my stomach and looked up into a pair of flailing sneakers.
Fortune had both arms wrapped around Mother Mary’s skirts and was slipping. Judging by the look on Ida Belle’s face, she and I realized at the same exact moment that Fortune’s trajectory would drop her directly onto Ida Belle’s head.
I reached out and grabbed Ida Belle’s wrist, yanking her sideways. Adrenaline had me tugging too hard and both of us went down, landing in a pile of starch and skirts between two pews.
Above us, something groaned and Mary wrenched downward.
The door to the nave slammed open.
Fortune expelled air like a punctured balloon and let go of the figurine, hitting the ground and rolling as Celia burst into the room like a virus filled sneeze.
We all hugged the ground and prayed she didn’t spot us. Squashed beneath me, Ida Belle was breathing fast and hard. I tried to take some of my weight off her and she pulled air into her lungs. Turning my head, I could just make out Gertie’s strange red shoes twitching beneath the podium. Unbidden, the munchkin song from the Wizard of Oz filtered through my brain and got stuck there. Which old Witch? The Wicked Witch! Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead.
“Hello?” Muffled footsteps pounded up the aisle, drumming against my bones as Celia thundered toward us.
Closing my eyes, I said a prayer, hoping my temporary sistah status would buy me a break from the big guy I pretty much ignored for the rest of the year. I glanced at Ida Belle and realized her lips were moving. She was either gasping her last breath or saying her own set of prayers. I shoved against the floor to ensure I wasn’t killing her, confident that Ida Belle’s prayers would be better received than mine. Hopefully if mine tanked hers would buy us a break from the tsunami heading our way.
Mother Mary groaned softly above us, her hem skewing slightly sideways. In a moment of horrifying clarity I realized she was coming down and Fortune and Gertie were sprawled directly beneath her.
I had to do something or my friends would be killed by the virgin Mary. My mind raced. My eyes danced from Gertie’s twitching red shoes to the aisle, where Celia had grown suspiciously quiet after Mary groaned.
Ida Belle must have read my intentions in my face. She grabbed my arm and gave a little shake of her head, frowning.
I jerked my head toward Mary, whose hem had twitched another notch lower.
Suddenly Celia shrieked.
We all jumped and I scampered backward as footsteps once again pounded down the aisle.
I shoved to my feet and looked toward the door, my mouth opening to give Celia a line of bull pucky to distract her. But all I saw was Celia’s wide backside disappearing through the door her arms flailing over her head. She was screaming Carter’s name at dolphin pitch.