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Seville, 1642


Brother Juan walked through the monastery’s kitchen garden, rubbing sleep from his eyes. He'd been woken from his station in the guardhouse by screams. Ahead, among the cabbages, he could see the light from a lantern. 

He reached the huddle of cooks, maids and porters, who were huddled around something on the floor.

"Stand back." Said Brother Juan.

Lorenzo, one of the lads who helped with the garden, was lying dead on the floor.

"Who found him?" He asked.

"I did, Brother Juan." Said Lucia, the maid. "I was walking to the privy and..." She choked up, too emotional to continue. 

"Did anyone touch the body?" 

"I shut his eyes, Brother."  Said Brother Bartelemo, the head gardener. "His face... Dios mio." He shuddered and crossed himself.

"Come on guys, you know you shouldn't touch the body. That's rule number one around here: Don't disturb the crime scene." Recently there had been so many murders in the monastery that they'd posted a list of rules for the monks and monastery workers to follow when they found a body. "And look," Juan exclaimed, "you've trodden all over the ground so I can't look for footprints." He didn't say it with much conviction. 

"Sorry Brother." said Bartelemo.

"Just get everyone away from my crime scene."

"Yes, Brother." Bartelemo ushered the weeping women away. 

Juan crouched and inspected the corpse. This wasn't why he'd joined the monastery. He longed for a quiet life of prayer and study. When he wasn't distracted by his new duties, he was composing a white-hot treatise on the prophet Nehemiah. 

Lorenzo's grimy, off-white shirt had a patch of blood spreading from the middle of his chest. He rolled him over and saw the same on his back. He'd been run through with a rapier or something similar. He checked the young man's breeches. Nothing in the pockets.

He had on a pair of elaborately embroidered breeches. Too elaborate for a humble gardener. He saw a crest sewn onto the back pocket that read "Breeches and Hoes". Juan knew this to be a gang of dandy gardeners, who were famous for getting violent if people stepped on their turf. (Turf shouldn't be stepped on for 4-6 weeks after it has been laid, to promote strong root growth.)

Still, Juan didn't think this murder was gang related. He had known Lorenzo a little bit, from his time tending the garden. He had been a peace-loving soul. 

Juan caught the faint smell of fish in the night air. It cut through the soft scent of begonias, orange blossom and camomile. He checked the body again. He was about to give up his search when he noticed something in Lorenzo's mouth. He pried open his jaws and pulled out a fresh anchovy. 

Juan knew Lorenzo had a brother who worked at the docks. As a junior gardener, Lorenzo wasn't bound by the rules of the monastery and could come and go as he pleased. In Juan’s experience, these murder cases usually involved a prostitute with a heart of gold or a family member who had fallen in with the wrong crowd. And there was a wrong crowd down at the docks.

Using the lantern, he checked the murder scene. It had been trampled by the crowd of gardeners and maids, but next to a newly sprouting cabbage, he found a broken pistachio shell, trodden into the mud. 

Juan slipped it into one of the vellum envelopes that the Abbot insisted they use to keep evidence safe. He sighed and stood up. Looking up at the windows of the courtyard he noticed the Abbot's light was still on. He would have to pay him a visit.


Juan knocked on the door of the Abbot's chambers. 

"Enter." called the Abbot.

"Good evening... er, Chief." The abbot had recently asked the monks to call him either 'Chief' or 'Gaffer'.

"You're working nights this week, aren't you Juan?" The monks had been split into night and day shifts. Everyone above novice level was required to learn basic criminology and work a couple of shifts a week. 

"Yes sir, it's playing havoc with my study time in the library."

"Books!? You'll learn more out there, pounding the streets, knocking on doors, taking names and asking questions."

"Yes Chief."

"What can I do for you? Has there been another murder?"

"Yes Chief, a junior gardener."

"Goddammit! Excuse my blasphemy, but when will this cycle of violence ever end?" He stood up and looked out the window of the high tower where he lived. A shaft of moonlight came through the window, illuminating his stern profile. Even Juan had to admit he looked heroic.

"I know, sir, the fifth murder this month." It was only the 12th of June.

"What are you thinking? Was he rescuing a prostitute with a heart of gold or did he have a family member in trouble?" 

"I don't know, Sir. Maybe the lab will give us some insights." 

The 'lab' consisted of old Brother Henrique, the librarian. 

"But the lab is pretty backed up. We could use some more manpower; the squad is stretched pretty thin." Said Juan.

The Abbot gave him a palms out shrug, like 'there's nothing I can do about it, kiddo'. 

Juan understood that you could expect maybe one murder per monastery every fifty years. It was human nature that in a community of celibate, sexually frustrated men, there would be an occasional flare-up. But five murders in twelve days? It was too much! If this was the new normal, maybe being a monk wasn’t for him anymore. The job had changed, and he hadn't changed with it. Juan took a deep breath. He'd wanted to have this conversation for a while. Now was as good a time as any. 

"Listen, Abbot - sorry, gaffer," said Juan, "I was wondering about a transfer to a different monastery?"

"Transfer? You don't want that. Other monasteries are boring. This monastery used to be boring. All we did was pray and garden and eat dinner in silence. It's like, kill me now." He mimed slitting his wrists.

"That's sort of why I became a monk, though."

"You don't want that. Trust me."

"But this job..." He looked down at the back of his hands and tried not to cry.

"The murders are getting to you, I can tell. Why don't you talk to the shrink?"

The 'shrink' was Brother Alejandro, the Infirmarian. Because the monks were busy solving murders, and the gardening staff were busy getting murdered, no one was growing the herbs that Alejandro needed for the infirmary. There was no medicine. If you went to see him, you had to talk about your feelings and hope you got better. Alejandro was convinced it was a new form of medicine, but Juan wasn't so sure. 

Also, Alejandro had a reputation for being a gossip. So there was that. 

"It's ok, I can manage." Said Juan.

"Great, have you informed the family?"

"Not yet. I'm going there now."

He walked to the door. Before he left, he thought of another question. He turned and casually asked:

"One more thing, you’re up very late, what were you doing this evening?"

"Been up here all night. praying. Ask God, he'll corroborate my alibi." 

The Abbot winked at him and cracked a pistachio from a bowl. He ate the nut and threw the shells out the window. A habit that enraged Bartelemo, the head gardener. Juan let out a big sigh. The Abbot gave him a sympathetic look. 

"I tell you what, check the top of the tower tomorrow morning, I'm sure I saw Lorenzo up there. Could be a clue."

Juan left his office, pulling the heavy wooden door shut. The torches were guttering in their sconces. Instead of turning left, to go down and out to Lorenzo's family house, he turned right and climbed the stairs to the top of the tower.

The roof of the tower was flat with low crenelations around the edge. He sat in the dark shadow of one of the corners and drew his cloak up around himself to wait. 

Twenty minutes passed before he heard the creak of the trap door hinges. He watched while the Abbot climbed onto the roof. He had a vellum envelope in his hand and was scattering the contents on the floor. At first Juan couldn't see what they were, then he saw a flash of silver in the moonlight and caught the unmistakable smell of fish. Fresh anchovies. 

"I never told you the name Lorenzo." Said Juan, from the darkness.

The Abbot wheeled around and saw Juan. 

"I said come up here in the morning." Said the Abbot, exasperated.

"I told you it was a junior gardener. I didn’t tell you his name. It's over, Chief. I know it was you."

"Why would I kill Lorenzo? He's nothing to me."

"Exactly. He's more useful to you dead than alive. You killed him so we’d have another murder to investigate."

"I'm doing it to help you. Do you think they're going to let us monks keep living the good life? Gardening, reading books, praying." He said. He did finger quotes around the word 'praying'.

"Killing people is not the answer."

"I’m retraining you for the modern world! Look what happened to the monks in England, in Germany. They're out on their arses. But not my lads. My lads can solve crimes."

"It's just wrong. Come on, gaff, let's go see the Bishop." Juan stood up.

"I can't let you destroy what I've been working for." Said the Abbot.

"Women and children, Chief. You killed women and children." 

"I'll tell everyone you were corrupt. No one will miss you." 

The abbot ran across the turret, to where Juan was standing. Instead of pushing Juan over the edge as he’d intended, he slipped on an anchovy. Juan sidestepped and the Abbot tumbled off the tower. He hit the courtyard flagstones with a wet crunch.

Juan slipped out of the monastery before the Chief’s body was discovered. He went to tell Lorenzo's family the sad news about their son.

When he returned, the sun had risen. It was going to be a scorcher. The grounds of the monastery were silent, save for the buzzing of the bees on the lavender flowers and the barking of a dog in a distant field. Brother Alejandro met him in the kitchen garden. He looked solemn, his hands clasped together under his cowl.

"Brother Juan." 

"Brother Alejandro, good morrow to thee."

"Alas, if it were a good morrow."

"You heard about poor Lorenzo, then?"

"Poor Lorenzo. And the Chief, too."

"The Chief? I had not heard that. I was in town talking to Lorenzo's family."

"It's good to know that you aren't mixed up in this. Brother Matteo is on duty for the solving of crimes. He suspects that the Abbot slipped on an anchovy while having a midnight snack on the roof."

"How sad. But forgive me, I must get some rest. It was a long and distressing night."

"Of course, Brother."

And that was that. The Abbot was replaced by Brother Bartelemo, who was the Cardinal's nephew. Life in the monastery returned to normal. In the early mornings they tended the garden. And, in the afternoons, when it was too hot for gardening, they retreated to the library to study, protected from the heat by the thick stone walls.

Many generations of monks lived happily in that monastery, until the 1950s, when General Franco’s troops lined them up against a wall and gunned them down.


Henry Carr is a writer and theatre director from the south west of England. Most recently he directed the play Bedu, which had a critically acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Festival (4 stars The Guardian, The List) and transferred to Soho Theatre in London. He has had scripts in development at - among others - BBC and Channel 4.


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