sworn TO MURDER
BY SISTER DIANE CAROLLO
BOOK 2 ~ SISTER MAGGIE MYSTERY SERIES
April 2, 1991
“You can’t just walk away from us. That makes you a defector and a traitor to the cause,” Jared Taylor said as he shoved Sam Browning against the wall of his dorm room.
Trapped in the tiny space with Jared and two more members of the Alliance of Heritage Nationalists, Sam tried to breathe through his fear. His effort failed when the guys watching the exchange stared at him with blank expressions. When he joined the group, he’d had no idea it would mean life or death.
“That tattoo—” Taylor pinched the ink on Sam’s arm “—means you’re loyal to the AHN.” Taylor’s pale blue eyes held a warning.
Sam knew how violent Jared could become, especially after seeing him throw a classmate to the ground and beat the boy’s face bloody. The student’s only offense was voicing an opinion that some ignorant white guys proved to be on the wrong side of history when they embraced the ideology of white supremacy. Taylor’s cousin, Mitchel Fowler, had pulled him off the student. The same Mitchel Fowler who now leaned forward and poked Sam in the chest.
“You said being one of us was in your blood,” Fowler snarled.
Dylan King, the leader of the campus group, crossed his arms. In a calm voice, he said, “If you don’t believe in the scientific evidence that proves the superiority of white people over all other races, then you don’t deserve to be part of our noble organization.” The other two goons stepped aside as Dylan strolled up to Sam and regarded him with a cool green gaze. “I saw you talking to that ‘African-American’ girl the other day on campus.” He used air quotes and sneered as he used the correct term in a sarcastic voice. “Does she have anything to do with your decision to abandon our cause?”
Sam shifted along the wall to give himself space to think. If only he could get to the door, he could make a run for it. He managed to take a couple of steps but tripped on his sneakers. Darn my own clumsiness. “She was only asking for directions to Spratt Hall,” he sputtered, regaining his balance. “Look, no hard feelings, but I realized I need to focus on my studies.”
“Nice try,” King said with a smirk. “Since when did you go all nerdy?”
“Yeah,” Taylor echoed. “Besides, the AHN is about assisting its members when necessary.”
“You mean cheating.”
King shook his head. “Haven’t you learned anything from us? AHN is all about helping our fellow members get top scores and then primo jobs after we graduate.”
“Yeah, because we’re tired of outsiders taking our jobs,” Fowler said. “Or have you forgotten?”
“I-I just don’t see the point of violence,” Sam said, trying to remain calm. His legs trembled, but he figured he’d be better off if he was honest. “It doesn’t accomplish anything.” There. He said it. Sam’s gaze took in all three men. King had short blond hair and blue eyes. While Fowler had brown wavy hair and brown eyes, Taylor was balding and had a buzz cut that made his pale eyes look all the more menacing.
“Sometimes violence is necessary to make a point,” King said as he stepped back and gestured to Fowler with a slight nod.
Fowler grinned as he lunged at Sam and delivered a powerful punch to his jaw.
Sam stumbled back, grabbing onto the bookshelf to keep from falling. Books tumbled to the floor as Taylor yanked Sam by his sweatshirt and pushed him down. King delivered a hard kick to Sam’s side. Sam groaned and clutched his ribs, the pain so sharp he feared they’d cracked.
Three loud knocks sounded on the door. “What’s going on in there? Open up!” a voice called out. The door suddenly opened, and Residential Assistant Mikel Obi, known on campus as Mike, stepped into Sam’s dorm room, master keys in hand. His gaze went straight to Sam, who was still on the floor, holding his side.
He turned to the three men who stood over Sam and stared at them with narrowed eyes.
Sam attempted to smile, but it turned into a grimace. “Everything is fine, Mike. W-we were j-just horsing around, and I t-tripped.”
Mike turned to the three hoodlums. “I think it’s time you gentlemen leave before I report you to the head of the housing office.” He offered Sam a hand up.
The three thugs exchanged glances and made their way to the door. King sneered at Sam. “Try not to be so clumsy in the future.” He scowled at the six-foot-seven-inch resident advisor from Nigeria. “Let’s get out of this cesspool,” he said.
After they’d left, Mike shook his head at Sam. “What’s going on? What have you gotten yourself mixed up in?”
Sam held his side as he made his way to the unmade bed and sat with a groan. He rolled up his sleeve and showed the RA the Valknot tattoo identifying him as a member of the AHN. Mike raised his eyebrows. “I’ve seen that symbol around campus, mostly graffiti. It’s connected to the AHN, right?”
“The Valknot is also known as the knot of the slain,” Sam replied. “It’s an old Norse symbol associated with the afterlife. Three intertwined triangles. White supremacists who have this tattoo are willing to die for the cause. I just told those guys that not only was I not willing to die for the cause, I was quitting the group.”
Mike crossed his arms over his muscular chest. “They preach pseudoscientific arguments that support white supremacy. They use a corrupted form of religion to preach hate.”
“I know,” said Sam. “I’m sorry, Mike.”
“As a Nigerian with dark skin, they consider me worthless trash. Why did you join them? I know you’re not a racist. It makes no sense.”
Sam blew out a breath. “I was going to tell you later today after I told King and his goons that I wanted out. Let me explain. Please.”
“Okay.” Mike sat in Sam’s desk chair, his mouth set in a thin line, his eyes reflecting disappointment.
Sam didn’t blame his friend for feeling betrayed. But he had to explain. “You know my kid brother was murdered by an illegal, right?”
“So that was four years ago. His death really kicked me in the gut, especially because Nathan and I did everything our folks said was right. When you do the right thing, you’re safe. Safe and saved. But they were wrong. Nate wasn’t safe, so they must have been wrong about everything.”
Sam twisted and moaned. “Hey, Mike, can you reach the top right desk drawer? I think I have some aspirin or something in there.”
Mike rummaged around the desk drawer and found the aspirin. He handed Sam the pills and a bottle of water from the small fridge. “So you figured if one immigrant is a murderer, all immigrants are murderers?” Even with the musical accent,
Mike’s voice was dry as dust.
“C’mon, dude, just listen. My brother’s death ruined my parents’ marriage. Then my girlfriend dumped me my first year of college for some rich Egyptian exchange student. She even converted to Islam so they could get married.”
“Life is tough.”
“You wear sarcasm like it’s your favorite t-shirt, bro.”
Mike’s slight smile was the only response.
“Anyway, my life took a nose-dive to hell,” Sam said with a crack in his voice. “No more going to Church, no more wanting to follow rules or laws. And I started drinking all the time.
“I met those guys at a bar in town that doesn’t really check IDs. They seemed cool, so we hung out all night. They drove me back to campus, but I was so wasted I couldn’t remember how to get back to my room. They let me crash in their dorm.”
Sam shook his head as his face heated with shame. “At first, I was drawn in by their loyalty to each other. They called it ‘allegiance.’ I liked that they talked about honor and respect. They wanted to know about my past. They sympathized with me and said what happened to me was unfair, but it kept happening everywhere to guys like us. Over time, they convinced me the country was going down the tubes because of immigration and minorities.” Sam paused and rubbed the tattoo on his forearm. “I started to believe them. They said the AHN was about sticking up for each other, and they reeled me in. Look, I just wanted to feel whole again, to have friends who had my back. To belong to something that would take away the pain.
Pretty stupid, huh?”
“You could have joined a fraternity,” Mike said with a raised eyebrow. “But the AHN? It’s like the mafia. They won’t leave you alone as long as you’re at Danfield.”
“I know that now.” Sam winced as he touched his aching jaw. “Since the spring semester ends in two days, my plan was to leave early tomorrow morning.” He reached down and pulled his packed suitcase from under the bed. “I’m transferring to Danvers College in Indianapolis for the summer session. They’ve accepted all my credits. By the way, how did you know the guys were in my room?”
“Your roommates found me. They told me you were getting your ass kicked and needed help.”
“King told my roommates to get lost. I don’t blame them for taking off.” Sam shrugged and rolled his eyes at his own stupidity.
“Thanks for your help, dude.” Sam used the sleeve of his sweatshirt to wipe his bleeding lip. “I’m glad you showed up when you did.”
Mike reached into the pocket of his red and white tracksuit pants and pulled out a handkerchief. He handed it to Sam. “You have been a good friend to me this semester when I started as an RA. No self-respecting white supremacist would do that. I know you’re a good guy, Sam. You went through bad stuff and let those guys manipulate you. Always stand up for what you believe. I have been doing that my whole life.”
Sam nodded. Mike was a track and field athlete and a campus superstar. He was training for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Not only was he studying with a full scholarship in engineering, he was a teaching assistant in addition to his RA job. He was graduating early and then heading to Spain to train full time before next year’s games. Sam and his roommates were a little in awe of Mike.
“Be careful, Sam,” Mike warned. “Those lowlifes hunt in packs. They will come back later tonight or early tomorrow to beat you to a pulp. You need to get out of here and off-campus by this afternoon. I’ll drive you to the bus station if you want.”
“Why are you doing this for me?” asked Sam.
“Do you know much about Nigeria?” asked Mike.
Sam shook his head. “Only a few things you told me.” Mike hadn’t seemed open to talking about his childhood in Nigeria, and Sam never pried.
“My birth country has its share of terrorists and tribal violence. As an Igbo, I belong to the third-largest ethnic group in the country. Other ethnic groups hate the Igbos. My father, Marobi, ran a successful automotive parts business with his brother Ikem. My father and Uncle Ikem and Ikem’s son, Jamal, were murdered by jealous members of the Yoruba tribe when I was a boy.”
Mike clenched his fists. “My mother feared for my safety as heir to my father’s business. She sold the business, and we fled Nigeria. She asked for help from her oldest sister, Adanna, who is a citizen of the United States. My aunt had studied here and married an African American physician named Arthur Whitaker. We lived with them in Danfield until my mother found work. Eventually, we became citizens and never looked back.” Clearing his throat, Mike continued. “As a child, I could do nothing to prevent the deaths of my father, uncle, and cousin, but I can help you avoid becoming a victim of the AHN.”
One Month Later
Sam stopped by the Student Union Building to grab a coffee before he went back to the library to finish his essay. He picked up the Indianapolis newspaper on the couch and was shocked by the headline: Track and Field Olympic Hopeful Found Dead. Mikel Obi, a senior at Danfield College who was expected to lead the U.S. track team at the summer Olympics, was identified today as the man killed in a car crash near the campus. Following his graduation later this month, Obi planned to train in Europe for the Barcelona Olympics, according to Danfield track coach Jim Beamer. “He was a gentleman, straight-A student, and a star athlete—destined for great things,” Beamer said.
Police said Obi lost control of his car and veered off the road Monday night, crashing into a tree. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital. The college will hold a memorial service for Obi this coming Friday in the college chapel. Condolences may be sent to the family in care of the Paragon Funeral Home.
Sam read the tributes from other students, faculty, and coaches. His eyes blurred with tears. The article had also stated there had been a flash rainstorm the night of the accident, implying that the weather may have factored into the crash. Sam wondered if King and his cronies had been the real factor behind the accident. Maybe they had done something to the car or to the road to cause the crash. Obi was an expert driver, never drank or did drugs. No way he would have lost control and smashed into a tree—rain or no rain. Sam thought for a moment and remembered something about Mitch Fowler and his cousin Jared Taylor. They often boasted of their mechanical skills, especially with cars. Sam figured one or both of them had
rigged Mike’s brakes to fail.
Mike had saved Sam’s life from King and the AHN, but sadly, Sam couldn’t do the same for Mike. He thought about going to the police and telling them his theory, but with no proof, what would it accomplish? And the AHN might come after him as well. Sam wiped his eyes, wishing he’d never joined that horrible group. The only thing he could do was finish school and try to make a difference in the world. He would do it for Mike. He wasn’t sure what he should do, but he knew that in time, he would figure it out.
April 15, 10:30 a.m.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Convent
New Hope, Indiana
“But I don’t snore. I hate the idea of using a breathing machine at night,” Sister Mary Ruth, complained.
“The sisters and I have to disagree. You definitely snore,” Sister Maggie Donovan said as she drove Sister Mary Ruth back to Our Lady of Guadalupe Convent from the medical supply store. “I won’t say who, but a few of the sisters have threatened to put tents up in the back yard with sleeping bags.”
Sister Maggie stifled a chuckle. Sister Mary Ruth, who was called Sister Ruthie for short, was one of the most loving and kind-hearted people Sister Maggie had ever known—and the most stubborn. Sister Ruthie’s medical issue was no laughing matter, but her stubbornness and the reaction of the sisters to her snoring bordered on comical.
“Oh, that’s just nonsense,” huffed Sister Ruthie.
When the technician had handed Sister Ruthie the black case containing the CPAP machine, Sister Maggie, who’d been looking at motorized wheelchairs for her mother, overheard the elderly sister whisper to the woman that she didn’t need or want the machine, but was told she had to use it by her superior. Sister Maggie raised her eyes heavenward.
Despite the medical report on her sleep apnea, Sister Ruthie insisted the CPAP machine was an exaggerated response to her snoring.
Sister Maggie didn’t tell the elderly nun that Sister Mary Felicia’s parents offered to lend them their old RV so the sisters could get a good night’s sleep. She also didn’t mention that Sister Rose Marie had suggested Sister Ruthie be the one to sleep in the RV. Sister Maggie turned up the air-conditioner in the car. It was a sweltering ninety degrees outside, contradicting the weather forecasters’ prediction for a cooler June day.
“I can’t fathom how that sleep gizmo will make any difference.” Sister Ruthie reached for a tissue and blew her nose with a great honking sound.
“Your snoring has been described by some to be akin to a buzz saw,” Sister Maggie replied. “Do you forget what Dr. Trippi said at your follow-up appointment? Your sleep test showed that you need the machine because you stop breathing frequently during the night. That CPAP machine—what you call a gizmo—will force air into your lungs throughout the night, remedy your snoring, and restore sanity to the sisters at Our Lady of Guadalupe Convent.”
“Well, I suppose I could get used to it if it means bringing peace back into our midst.”
Sister Maggie pulled into her parking spot and smiled at the older nun. “Thank you, Sister Ruthie. I knew you would do what was best for all concerned. Imagine how rested you will feel when you wake up in the morning.”
“It will be nice not to fall asleep during morning Mass,” Sister Ruthie said.
“Indeed, a bonus if I ever heard one. Sister Maggie hid a smile as she got out of the car. The two nuns were greeted in the front hall with great enthusiasm by the other sisters. The group made their way to the kitchen and out the back door where a picnic was laid out under the shade of the maple tree.
“Well, isn’t this splendid,” Sister Maggie declared, winking at Sister Mary Felicia.
“It was such a lovely day, warmer than expected,” Sister Mary Felicia said. “Perfect for a picnic. Besides, it’s very comfortable under this tree, wouldn’t you say, Sister Ruthie?”
“Indeed, it is. I do love this tree, but I don’t think I would have liked sleeping under it at night,” Sister Ruthie said.
“Whatever do you mean?” Sister Rose Marie asked, setting a bowl of potato salad on the picnic table.
“Now that I have a CPAP machine, I won’t be bothering anyone anymore with my snoring, and I can enjoy the lovely view of this tree from my window at night rather than gazing up at it from my sleeping bag.”
“Sister Ruthie, we would never have allowed you to sleep out here,” Sister Mary Frances declared, filling their glasses with iced tea. “We would have slept out here instead.”
Sister Mary Felicia laughed out loud. She was joined by Sister Rose Marie and Sister Mary Frances. Sister Maggie glanced at Sister Ruthie, whose lips had begun to twitch. Soon they were all enjoying a good laugh as they tucked into their picnic lunch.
Sister Mary Felicia’s cell phone buzzed. Picking it up, her eyes lit up as she texted back and then turned to Sister Maggie with a big smile. “Guess what?”
“What?” Sister Maggie asked, taking a bite out of a big, juicy strawberry.
“My cousin Jaime Bauer, the new events director for the Indiana State Zoo, just texted me he can take us on that special tour of the zoo tomorrow morning.”
“That’s great news,” Sister Maggie said. “You must be happy to have Jaime working so close by. He was at the New York State Zoo for quite a few years wasn’t he?”
“Yes, I’m thrilled. Everyone in the family is. It’s a great promotion. He’s worked really hard over the past ten years,” Sister Mary Felicia said. “By the way, Jaime is arranging for us to meet Leo the orangutan.” Sister Mary Felicia’s eyes danced.
“Oh, that is definitely wonderful news,” Sister Maggie said. “I can’t wait.”
“Who’s Leo?” Sister Rose Marie asked as she brushed a fly off her blue tunic sleeve.
“Leo is the newest resident of the Indiana State Zoo.”
“Resident?” asked Sister Mary Frances.
“He’s an orangutan,” said Sister Mary Felicia, taking a bite of her ham sandwich.
“You mean all this excitement over going to see a gorilla?” Sister Ruthie shook her head.
“Leo is not a gorilla, Sister Ruthie, he’s an orangutan. There is a difference,” Sister Mary Felicia said.
“What’s the difference?” asked Sister Mary Frances.
Sister Mary Felicia turned to Sister Maggie. “Go for it.”
Sister Maggie smiled. “I’m glad you asked that question, Sister Mary Frances. For starters, gorillas are the largest ground-dwelling primates and come from the forests of central Sub-Saharan Africa. Orangutans, with their reddish-brown hair instead of the brown or black hair of gorillas, spend most of their time in trees and are currently found only in the rain forests of Borneo and Sumatra. They are native to Indonesia and Malaysia. Except for humans, orangutans are also the most intelligent of the primates.”
“Sister Maggie, I have never known anyone who is as curious about everything as you are,” Sister Rose Marie said with a chuckle.
“The world is full of wonders, so why not explore them? Who wants to join us tomorrow?”
“Shannon, my niece, is coming by tomorrow to take me to lunch,” replied Sister Ruthie.
“I have an early afternoon meeting to attend at St. Luke’s Hospital,” Sister Rose Marie said. She worked as a nurse practitioner in the community.
“And I have an end of the year luncheon planned with this year’s catechists,” declared Sister Mary Frances, the religion director for the parish.
“Well, you three will be missing a grand tour,” Sister Maggie said, popping another strawberry into her mouth.
We hope you enjoyed this sneak peek of
SWORN TO MURDER
by SISTER DIANE CAROLLO.
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