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Authors: Tess Gerritsen

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The Sinner

BOOK: The Sinner
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THE
SINNER

TESS GERRITSEN

B
ALLANTINE
B
OOKS
• N
EW
Y
ORK

 

To my mother, Ruby J. C. Tom, with love.

 

The Sinner
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and
incidents
either are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

A Ballantine Book

Published by The Random House Publishing Group

Copyright © 2003 by Tess Gerritsen

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American
Copyright
Conventions. Published in the United States by The Random House Publishing
Group,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by
Random
House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks of Random
House,
Inc.

www.ballantinebooks.com

The Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available from the Library
of
Congress

e-ISBN 0-345-46445-1

v1.0

 

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

My warmest thanks to:

Peter Mars and Bruce Blake, for their insights into the Boston
Police
Department.

Margaret Greenwald, M.D., for allowing me a look into the
medical
examiner’s world.

Gina Centrello, for her unflagging enthusiasm.

Linda Marrow, every writer’s dream editor.

Selina Walker, my miracle worker on the other side of the Pond.

Jane Berkey, Donald Cleary, and the wonderful team at the Jane
Rotrosen
Agency.

Meg Ruley, my literary agent, champion, and guiding light.
Nobody
does it better.

And to my husband Jacob, still my best friend after all these
years.

 

P
ROLOGUE

Andhra Pradesh
India

T
HE DRIVER REFUSED
to take him any farther.

A mile back, right after they passed the abandoned Octagon
chemical
plant, the pavement had given way to an overgrown dirt road. Now the driver
complained
that his car was getting scraped by underbrush, and with the recent rains, there
were muddy spots where their tires could get mired. And where would that leave
them?
Stranded, 150 kilometers from Hyderabad. Howard Redfield listened to the long
litany
of objections, and knew they were merely a pretext for the real reason the
driver
did not wish to proceed. No man easily admits that he is afraid.

Redfield had no choice; from here, he would have to walk.

He leaned forward to speak in the driver’s ear, and caught a
gamey
whiff of the man’s sweat. In the rearview mirror, where rattling beads
dangled,
he saw the driver’s dark eyes staring at him. “You’ll wait here
for
me, won’t you?” Redfield asked. “Stay right here, on the
road.”

“How long?”

“An hour, maybe. As long as it takes.”

“I tell you, there is nothing to see. No one is there
anymore.”

“Just wait here, okay? Wait. I’ll pay you double when we
get back to the city.”

Redfield grabbed his knapsack, stepped out of the air-conditioned
car,
and was instantly swimming in a sea of humidity. He hadn’t worn a knapsack
since
he was a college kid, wandering through Europe on a shoestring, and it felt a
little
would-be, at age fifty-one, to be slinging one over his flabby shoulders. But he
was damned if he went anywhere in this steamhouse of a country without his
bottle
of purified drinking water and his insect repellant and his sunscreen and
diarrhea
medicine. And his camera; he could not leave behind the camera.

He stood sweating in the late afternoon heat, looked up at the
sky,
and thought: Great, the sun is going down, and all the mosquitoes come out at
dusk.
Here comes dinner, you little buggers.

He set off down the road. Tall grass obscured the path, and he
stumbled
into a rut, his walking shoes sinking ankle-deep in mud. Clearly no vehicle had
come
this way in months, and Mother Nature had quickly moved in to reclaim her
territory.
He paused, panting and swatting at insects. Glancing back, he saw that the car
was
no longer in sight, and that made him uneasy. Could he trust the driver to wait
for
him? The man had been reluctant to bring him this far, and had grown more and
more
nervous as they’d bounced along the increasingly rough road. Bad people
were
out here, the driver had said, and terrible things happened in this area. They
could
both disappear, and who would bother to come looking for them?

Redfield pressed onward.

The humid air seemed to close in around him. He could hear the
water
bottle sloshing in his knapsack, and already he was thirsty, but he did not stop
to drink. With only an hour or so left of daylight, he had to keep moving.
Insects
hummed in the grass, and he heard what he thought must be birds calling in the
canopy
of trees all around him, but it was unlike any birdsong he’d ever heard
before.
Everything about this country felt strange and surreal, and he trudged in a
dreamlike
trance, sweat trickling down his chest. The rhythm of his own breathing
accelerated
with each step. It should be only a mile and a half, according to the map, but
he
seemed to walk forever, and even a fresh application of insect repellant did not
discourage the mosquitoes. His ears were filled with their buzzing, and his face
was an itching mask of hives.

He stumbled into another deep rut and landed on his knees in tall
grass.
Spat out a mouthful of vegetation as he crouched there, catching his breath, so
discouraged
and exhausted that he decided it was time to turn around. To get back on that
plane
to Cincinnati with his tail tucked between his legs. Cowardice, after all, was
far
safer. And more comfortable.

He heaved a sigh, planted his hand on the ground to push himself
to
his feet, and went very still, staring down at the grass. Something gleamed
there
among the green blades, something metallic. It was only a cheap tin button, but
at
that moment, it struck him as a sign. A talisman. He slipped it in his pocket,
rose
to his feet, and kept walking.

Only a few hundred feet farther, the road suddenly opened up into
a
large clearing, encircled by tall trees. A lone structure stood at the far edge,
a squat cinder block building with a rusting tin roof. Branches clattered and
grass
waved in the gentle wind.

This is the place, he thought. This is where it happened.

His breathing suddenly seemed too loud. Heart pounding, he slipped
off his knapsack, unzipped it, and pulled out his camera. Document everything,
he
thought. Octagon will try to make you out as a liar. They will do everything
they
can to discredit you, so you have to be ready to defend yourself. You have to
prove
that you are telling the truth.

He moved into the clearing, toward a heap of blackened branches.
Nudging
the twigs with his shoe, he stirred up the stench of charred wood. He backed
away,
a chill crawling up his spine.

It was the remains of a funeral pyre.

With sweating hands, he took off his lens cap and began to shoot
photos.
Eye pressed to the viewfinder, he snapped image after image. The burned remains
of
a hut. A child’s sandal, lying in the grass. A bright fragment of cloth,
torn
from a sari. Everywhere he looked, he saw Death.

He swung to the right, a tapestry of green sweeping past his
viewfinder,
and was about to click off another photo when his finger froze on the button.

A figure skittered past the edge of the frame.

He lowered the camera from his eye and straightened, staring at
the
trees. He saw nothing now, only the sway of branches.

There—was that a flash of movement, at the very periphery of
his
vision? He’d caught only a glimpse of something dark, bobbing among the
trees.
A monkey?

He had to keep shooting. The daylight was going fast.

He walked past a stone well and crossed toward the tin-roofed
building,
his pants swishing through grass, glancing left and right as he moved. The trees
seemed to have eyes, and they were watching him. As he drew near the building,
he
saw that the walls were scorched by fire. In front of the doorway was a mound of
ashes and blackened branches. Another funeral pyre.

He stepped around it, and looked into the doorway.

At first, he could make out very little in that gloomy interior.
Daylight
was rapidly fading, and inside, it was even darker, a palette of blacks and
grays.
He paused for a moment as his eyes adjusted. With growing bewilderment, he
registered
the glint of fresh water in an earthenware jar. The scent of spices. How could
this
be?

Behind him, a twig snapped.

He spun around.

A lone figure was standing in the clearing. All around them, the
trees
had gone still, and even the birds were silent. The figure came toward him,
moving
with a strange and jerky gait, until it stood only a few feet away.

The camera tumbled from Redfield’s hands. He backed away,
staring
in horror.

It was a woman. And she had no face.

 

O
NE

T
HEY CALLED HER
the Queen of the Dead.

Though no one ever said it to her face, Dr. Maura Isles sometimes
heard
the nickname murmured in her wake as she traveled the grim triangle of her job
between
courtroom and death scene and morgue. Sometimes she would detect a note of dark
sarcasm:
Ha
ha, there she goes, our Goth goddess, out to collect fresh subjects.
Sometimes
the whispers held a tremolo of disquiet, like the murmurs of the pious as an
unholy
stranger passes among them. It was the disquiet of those who could not
understand
why she chose to walk in Death’s footsteps. Does she enjoy it, they wonder?
Does the touch of cold flesh, the stench of decay, hold such allure for her that
she has turned her back on the living? They think this cannot be normal, and
they
cast uneasy glances her way, noting details that only reinforce their beliefs
that
she is an odd duck. The ivory skin, the black hair with its blunt Cleopatra cut.
The red slash of lipstick. Who else wears lipstick to a death scene? Most of
all,
it’s her calmness that d isturbs them, her coolly regal gaze as she surveys
the horrors that they themselves can barely stomach. Unlike them, she does not
avert
her gaze. Instead she bends close and stares, touches. She sniffs.

And later, under bright lights in her autopsy lab, she cuts.

She was cutting now, her scalpel slicing through chilled skin,
through
subcutaneous fat that gleamed a greasy yellow. A man who liked his hamburgers
and
fries, she thought as she used pruning shears to cut through the ribs and lifted
the triangular shield of breastbone the way one opens a cupboard door, to reveal
its treasured contents.

The heart lay cradled in its spongey bed of lungs. For fifty-nine
years,
it had pumped blood through the body of Mr. Samuel Knight. It had grown with
him,
aged with him, transforming, as he had, from the lean muscle of youth to this
well-larded
flesh. All pumps eventually fail, and so had Mr. Knight’s as he’d sat
in
his Boston hotel room with the TV turned on and a glass of whiskey from the
minibar
sitting beside him on the nightstand.

She did not pause to wonder what his final thoughts might have
been,
or whether he had felt pain or fear. Though she explored his most intimate
recesses,
though she flayed open his skin and held his heart in her hands, Mr. Samuel
Knight
remained a stranger to her, a silent and undemanding one, willingly offering up
his
secrets. The dead are patient. They do not complain, nor threaten, nor cajole.

The dead do not hurt you; only the living do.

She worked with serene efficiency, resecting the thoracic viscera,
laying the freed heart on the cutting board. Outside, the first snow of December
swirled, white flakes whispering against windows and slithering down alleys. But
here in the lab, the only sounds were of running water and the hiss of the
ventilator
fan. Her assistant Yoshima moved in uncanny silence, anticipating her requests,
materializing
wherever she needed him. They had worked together only a year and a half, yet
already
they functioned like a single organism, linked by the telepathy of two logical
minds.
She did not need to ask him to redirect the lamp; it was already done, the light
shining down on the dripping heart, a pair of scissors held out and waiting for
her
to take them.

The darkly mottled wall of the right ventricle, and the white
apical
scar, told her this heart’s sad story. An old myocardial infarction, months
or even years old, had already destroyed part of the left ventricular wall.
Then,
sometime in the last twenty-four hours, a fresh infarction had occurred. A
thrombus
had blocked off the right coronary artery, strangling the flow of blood to the
muscle
of the right ventricle.

She resected tissue for histology, already knowing what she would
see
under the microscope. Coagulation and necrosis. The invasion of white cells,
moving
in like a defending army. Perhaps Mr. Samuel Knight thought the discomfort in
his
chest was just a bout of indigestion. Too much lunch, shouldn’t have eaten
all
those onions. Maybe Pepto-Bismol would do the trick. Or perhaps there’d
been
more ominous signs which he chose to ignore: the weight on his chest, the
shortness
of breath. Surely it did not occur to him that he was having a heart attack.

That, a day later, he would be dead of an arrhythmia.

The heart now lay open and sectioned on the board. She looked at
the
torso, missing all its organs. So ends your business trip to Boston, she
thought.
No surprises here. No foul play, except for the abuse you heaped on your own
body,
Mr. Knight.

The intercom buzzed. “Dr. Isles?” It was Louise, her
secretary.

“Yes?”

“Detective Rizzoli’s on line two for you. Can you take
the
call?”

“I’ll pick up.”

Maura peeled off her gloves and crossed to the wall phone.
Yoshima,
who’d been rinsing instruments in the sink, shut off the faucet. He turned
to
watch her with his silent tiger eyes, already knowing what a call from Rizzoli
signified.

When at last Maura hung up, she saw the question in his gaze.

“It’s starting early today,” she said. Then she
stripped
off her gown and left the morgue, to usher another subject into her realm.

 

The morning’s snowfall had turned into a treacherous mix of
both
snow and sleet, and the city plows were nowhere in sight. She drove cautiously
along
Jamaica Riverway, tires swishing through deep slush, windshield wipers scraping
at
hoar-frosted glass. This was the first winter storm of the season, and drivers
had
yet to adjust to the conditions. Already, several casualties had slid off the
road,
and she passed a parked police cruiser, its lights flashing, the patrolman
standing
beside a tow truck driver as they both gazed at a car that had tipped into a
ditch.

The tires of her Lexus began to slide sideways, the front bumper
veering
toward oncoming traffic. Panicking, she hit the brakes and felt the
vehicle’s
automatic skid control kick into action. She pulled the car back into her lane.
Screw
this, she thought, her heart thudding. I’m moving back to California. She
slowed
to a timid crawl, not caring who honked at her or how much traffic she held up.
Go
ahead and pass me, idiots. I’ve met too many drivers like you on my slab.

The road took her into Jamaica Plain, a west Boston neighborhood
of
stately old mansions and broad lawns, of serene parks and river walks. In the
summertime,
this would be a leafy retreat from the noise and heat of urban Boston, but
today,
under bleak skies, with winds sweeping across barren lawns, it was a desolate
neighborhood.

The address she sought seemed the most forbidding of all, the
building
set back behind a high stone wall over which a smothering tangle of ivy had
scrambled.
A barricade to keep out the world, she thought. From the street, all she could
see
were the gothic peaks of a slate roof and one towering gable window which peered
back at her like a dark eye. A patrol car parked near the front gate confirmed
that
she had found the correct address. Only a few other vehicles had arrived so
far—the
shock troops before the larger army of crime-scene techs arrived.

She parked across the street and braced herself against the first
blast
of wind. When she stepped out of the car, her shoe skidded right out from under
her,
and she barely caught herself, hanging onto the vehicle door. Dragging herself
back
to her feet, she felt icy water trickle down her calves from the soaked hem of
her
coat, which had fallen into the slush. For a few seconds she just stood there,
sleet
stinging her face, shocked by how quickly it had all happened.

She glanced across the street at the patrolman sitting in his
cruiser,
and saw that he was watching her, and had surely seen her slip. Her pride stung,
she grabbed her kit from the front seat, swung the door shut, and made her way,
with
as much dignity as she could muster, across the rime-slicked road.

“You okay, Doc?” the patrolman called out through his
car
window, a concerned inquiry she really did not welcome.

“I’m fine.”

“Watch yourself in those shoes. It’s even more slippery
in
the courtyard.”

“Where’s Detective Rizzoli?”

“They’re in the chapel.”

“And where’s that?”

“Can’t miss it. It’s the door with the big cross on
it.”

She continued to the front gate, but found it locked. An iron bell
hung on the wall; she tugged on the pull rope, and the medieval clang slowly
faded
into the softer tick, tick of falling sleet. Just beneath the bell was a bronze
plaque,
its inscription partially obscured by a strand of brown ivy.

Graystones Abbey
The Sisters of Our Lady of Divine Light

“The harvest is indeed great, but the laborers are few.

Pray, therefore, to send laborers

Into the harvest.”

On the other side of the gate, a woman swathed in black
suddenly
appeared, her approach so silent that Maura gave a start when she saw the face
staring
at her through the bars. It was an ancient face, so deeply lined it seemed to be
collapsing in on itself, but the eyes were bright and sharp as a bird’s.
The
nun did not speak, posing her question with only her gaze.

“I’m Dr. Isles from the Medical Examiner’s
office,”
said Maura. “The police called me here.”

The gate squealed open.

Maura stepped into the courtyard. “I’m looking for
Detective
Rizzoli. I believe she’s in the chapel.”

The nun pointed directly across the courtyard. Then she turned and
shuffled slowly into the nearest doorway, abandoning Maura to make her own way
to
the chapel.

Snowflakes whirled and danced amid needles of sleet, like white
butterflies
circling their lead-footed cousins. The most direct route was to cross the
courtyard,
but the stones were glazed with ice, and Maura’s shoes, with their gripless
soles, had already proven no match for such a surface. She ducked instead
beneath
the narrow covered walkway that ran along the courtyard’s perimeter. Though
protected from the sleet, she found little shelter here from the wind, which
sliced
through her coat. She was shocked by the cold, reminded yet again of how cruel
December
in Boston could be. For most of her life, she had lived in San Francisco, where
a
glimpse of snowflakes was a rare delight, not a torment, like these stinging
nettles
that swirled under the overhang to nip her face. She veered closer to the
building
and hugged her coat tighter as she passed darkened windows. From beyond the gate
came the faint swish of traffic on Jamaica Riverway. But here, within these
walls,
she heard only silence. Excep t for the elderly nun who had admitted her, the
compound
seemed abandoned.

So it was a shock when she saw three faces staring at her from one
of the windows. The nuns stood in a silent tableau, like dark-robed ghosts
behind
glass, watching the intruder make her way deeper into their sanctuary. Their
gazes
swerved in unison, following her as she moved past.

The entrance to the chapel was draped with a strand of yellow
crime
scene tape, which had sagged in the doorway and hung crusted with sleet. She
lifted
the tape to step beneath it and pushed open the door.

A camera flash exploded in her eyes and she froze, the door slowly
hissing shut behind her, blinking away the afterimage that had seared her
retinas.
As her vision cleared, she saw rows of wooden pews, whitewashed walls, and at
the
front of the chapel, an enormous crucifix hanging above the altar. It was a
coldly
austere room, its gloom deepened by the stained glass windows, which admitted
only
a murky smear of light.

“Hold it right there. Be careful where you step,” said
the
photographer.

Maura looked down at the stone floor and saw blood. And
footprints—a
confusing jumble of them, along with medical debris. Syringe caps and torn
wrappings.
The leavings of an ambulance crew. But no body.

Her gaze moved in a wider circle, taking in the piece of trampled
white
cloth lying in the aisle, the splashes of red on the pews. She could see her own
breath in this frigid room, and the temperature seemed to drop even colder, her
chill
deepening as she read the bloodstains, saw the successive splashes moving up the
rows of benches, and understood what had happened here.

The photographer began to click off more shots, each one a visual
assault
on Maura’s eyes.

“Hey Doc?” At the front of the chapel, a mop of dark
hair
popped up as Detective Jane Rizzoli rose to her feet and waved. “The
vic’s
up here.”

“What about this blood here, by the door?”

“That’s from the other victim, Sister Ursula. Med-Q boys
took her to St. Francis. There’s more blood along that center aisle, and
some
footprints we’re trying to preserve, so you’d better circle around to
your
left. Stick close to the wall.”

Maura paused to pull on paper shoe-covers, then edged along the
perimeter
of the room, hugging the wall. Only as she cleared the front row of pews did she
see the nun’s body, lying faceup, the fabric of her habit a black pool
blending
into a larger lake of red. Both hands had already been bagged to preserve
evidence.
The victim’s youth took Maura by surprise. The nun who had let her in the
gate,
and those she had seen through the window, had all been elderly. This woman was
far
younger. It was an ethereal face, her pale blue eyes frozen in a look of eerie
serenity.
Her head was bare, the blond hair shorn to barely an inch long. Every terrible
blow
was recorded in the torn scalp, the misshapen crown.

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