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Home > Sands of Time(27)

Sands of Time(27)
Author: Sidney Sheldon

She never reached Madrid.

At the walled city of avila, the tour bus made a scheduled stop for refreshments and what the guide delicately referred to as a comfort station.

"Alle raus vom bus," he called.

Lucia stayed in her seat, watching the passengers rise and scramble for the front door of the bus. I'll be safer if I stay here. But the guide noticed her.

"Out, fraulein," he said. "We have only fifteen minutes."

Lucia hesitated, then reluctantly rose and moved toward the door.

As she passed the guide, he said, "Warten sie bitte! You are not of this tour."

Lucia gave him a warm smile. "No," she said. "You see, my car broke down in San Sebastian and it is very important that I get to Madrid, so I - "

"Nein!" the guide bellowed. "This is not possible. This is a private tour."

"I know," Lucia told him, "but you see, I need - "

"You must arrange this with the company headquarters in Munich."

"I can't. I'm in a terrible hurry and - "

"Nein, nein. You will get me in trouble. Go away or I will call the police."

"But - "

Nothing she said could sway him. Twenty minutes later Lucia watched the bus pull away and roar down the highway toward Madrid. She was stranded with no passport and almost no money, and by now the police of half a dozen countries would be looking for her to arrest her for murder.

She turned to examine her surroundings. The bus had stopped in front of a circular building with a sign in front that read ESTACIoN DE AUTOBuSES.

I can get another bus here, Lucia thought.

She walked into the station. It was a large building with marble walls, and scattered around the room were a dozen ticket windows with a sign over each one: SEGOVIA...MUnOGALINDO...VALLADOLID...SALAMANCA...MADRID. Stairs and an escalator led to the downstairs level, where the buses departed from. There was a pasteleria, where they sold doughnuts and candy and sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, and Lucia suddenly realized that she was starved.

I'd better not buy anything, she thought, until I find out how much a bus ticket costs.

As she started toward the window marked MADRID, two uniformed policemen hurried into the station. One of them was carrying a photograph. They moved from window to window showing the picture to the clerks.

They're looking for me. That damned bus driver reported me.

A family of newly arrived passengers was coming up the escalator. As they moved toward the door, Lucia stepped up beside them, mingling with them, and went outside.

She walked down the cobblestone streets of avila, trying not to rush, afraid of drawing attention to herself. She turned into the Calle de la Madre Soledad, with its granite buildings and black wrought-iron balconies, and when she reached the Plaza de la Santa, she sat down on a park bench to try to figure out her next move. A hundred yards away, several women and some couples were seated in the park, enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

As Lucia sat there, a police car appeared. It pulled up at the far end of the square and two policemen got out. They moved over to one of the women seated alone and began questioning her. Lucia's heart began to beat faster.

She forced herself to get to her feet slowly, her heart pounding, and turned away from the policemen and kept walking. The next street was called, unbelievably, "The Street of Life and Death." I wonder if it's an omen.

There were lifelike stone lions in the plaza, with their tongues out, and in Lucia's fevered imagination they seemed to be snapping at her. Ahead of her was a large cathedral, and on its façade was a carved medallion of a young girl and a grinning skull. The very air seemed to be filled with death.

Lucia heard the sound of a church bell and looked up through the open city gate. In the distance, high on a hill, rose the walls of a convent. She stood there, staring at it.

"Why have you come to us, my daughter?" the Reverend Mother Betina asked softly.

"I need a place of refuge."

"And you have decided to seek the refuge of God?"

Exactly. "Yes." Lucia began to improvise. "This is what I have always wanted - to devote myself to the life of the Spirit."

"In our souls it is what we all wish for, is it not, daughter?"

Jesus, she's really falling for it, Lucia thought happily.

The Reverend Mother went on. "You must understand that the Cistercian order is the strictest of all the orders, my child. We are completely isolated from the outside world."

Her words were music to Lucia's ears.

"Those who enter these walls have vowed never to leave."

"I never want to leave," Lucia assured her. Not for the next few months, anyway.

The Reverend Mother rose. "It is an important decision. I suggest that you go and think about it carefully before you make up your mind."

Lucia felt the situation slipping away from her, and she began to panic. She had nowhere to go. Her only hope was to stay behind these walls.

"I have thought about it," Lucia said quickly. "Believe me, Reverend Mother, I've thought about nothing else. I want to renounce the world." She looked the Mother Prioress in the eye. "I want to be here more than I want to be anywhere else in the world." Lucia's voice rang with truth.

The Reverend Mother was puzzled. There was something unsettled and frantic about this woman that was disturbing. And yet what better reason for anyone to come to this place where her spirit would be calmed by meditation and prayer?

"Are you Catholic?"

"Yes."

The Reverend Mother picked up an old-fashioned quill pen. "Tell me your name, child."

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