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Authors: Rick Mofina

A Perfect Grave

BOOK: A Perfect Grave
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Praise for Rick Mofina

“A lightning-paced thriller with lean, tense writing…Mofina really knows how to make the story fly.”

Tess Gerritsen,
New York Times
bestselling author on
Perfect Grave

“At full throttle from the first page and doesn’t let up till the last.”

—Linwood Barclay on
Every Fear

“A snappy action-packed, hard-to-put-down thriller.”

Daily Mail
on
The Dying Hour

“Rick Mofina keeps you turning the pages with characters you care about, a believable plot and as many twists as it takes to keep the suspense at a high level until the shattering conclusion.”

Peter Robinson on
The Dying Hour

“It moves like a tornado.”

James Patterson on
Six Seconds

“Grabs your gut – and your heart – in the opening scenes and never lets go.”

Jeffery Deaver on
Six Seconds

“Classic virtues but tomorrow’s subjects – everything we need from a great thriller.”

Lee Child on
Six Seconds

Perfect Grave

Rick Mofina

www.mirabooks.co.uk

Also by Rick Mofina

SIX SECONDS

Jason Wade novels

THE DYING HOUR

EVERY FEAR

PERFECT GRAVE

Coming next year from MIRA Books

VENGEANCE ROAD

This book is for my favorite sister-in-law.

You know who you are.

Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she has loved much.

—Luke 7:47

Chapter One

F
or Sister Anne, death was always near.

But tonight, it
felt closer
and she didn’t know why.

Tonight was like any other in the Compassionate Heart of Mercy Shelter at the fringe of Seattle’s Pioneer Square District, where she was offering tomato soup to those who had lost hope. Their pasts haunted their faces. The pain of their lives stained their bodies with lesions, needle tracks, and prison tattoos.

Moving along the rows of plastic-covered bingo tables, Sister Anne saw how her “guests” occasionally looked up from their meals to the finger paintings on the basement walls, pictures taped there by the children of the shelter’s day care program. Portraits of happy families holding hands under sunny skies and rainbows.

No dark clouds. No frowns. No tears.

Glimpses of heaven.

She was moved by the juxtaposition of the dreamy images and the cold realities of these unfortunate souls, handcuffed to mistakes, tragedies, and addictions, searching the artwork of inner-city children for answers.

Silent cries for help.

Offering help was Sister Anne’s job. Her mission was to rescue broken people. To give them hot food, hope, and the courage to mend themselves.

“Would you like more soup, Willie?”

A gravelly whisper emerged from the crumbspecked beard of the former aircraft mechanic, who’d lost his job, his house, and finally, his family, to gambling.

“I don’t want to trouble nobody, Sister.”

“It’s no trouble, dear. Sister Violet tells me you’re doing well in recovery.”

“Haven’t missed a session in two months.”

“Keep the faith, dear heart. You’re my hero.”

Sister Anne gripped his shoulder and pulled him close, indifferent to the smells of alcohol, cigarettes, body odor, and despair that were common here. The nuns of the order met the challenge of their mission, but Sister Anne embraced it.

For whether she was handing out wrapped sandwiches to homeless men, or comforting runaway teens and abused women, or whether she was entering prisons to counsel inmates, Sister Anne was a tireless warrior for charity.

She never lectured or preached; she served with humility, for she, too, had made mistakes. Yet none of the other sisters knew her story, or how she came to have her “God moment,” which had inspired her devotion.

Sister Anne was private about her previous life.

In fact, upon first meeting her, few people figured Anne Braxton to be a nun. An easy thing to do since the Vatican’s push in the 1960s to modernize the church. For the sisters of this small order, it meant they did not live a cloistered life behind the stone walls of a convent or maintain the tradition of wearing habits, wimples, and veils.

Tonight, Sister Anne wore faded jeans and a Seattle Seahawks sweatshirt, dotted with gravy and smelling of tuna casserole. With her scrubbed face and cropped hair feathered with gray, it was easy to peg her as a forty-something volunteer from a middle-class suburb. The small silver cross hanging from the black cord around her neck and her simple silver ring betrayed none of the inner fire that had fused her to her community.

For she had shouldered the anguish of those she’d worked so hard to help. Next to Willie was Beatrice, who’d been a schoolteacher in Ravenna when she accidentally backed her minivan over a six-year-old girl on a school trip. The girl died. Beatrice fell into a depression and was slipping away until the night police were called to the Aurora Avenue Bridge and talked her out of jumping into Lake Union. Since then, Sister Anne had been helping Beatrice forgive herself.

Sister Anne did the same with Cooper, a haunted soldier, whose tank took a direct hit in the rear. Everyone in the crew died. “Cooked alive.”

Only Cooper got out.

Sister Anne prayed every day for Cooper, Beatrice, and Willie, refusing to let them believe they were worthless, unloved, and at fault for what had happened. No one is to blame, she would tell them, and the new people who arrived with similar tragedies every day at the shelter. Each one of them mattered and she wanted them to know that, especially at the end of the evening before they vanished into the night.

“Thank you for coming. God bless you and good luck.” She hugged each of them as they departed.

Later, while collecting plates, her thoughts turned inward as she reexamined her past, her guilt clawing at her until she pushed it away.

But it kept returning.

Tonight, Sister Anne was the last to leave, staying behind to study the next day’s menu. Again, the odd feeling drew her back through the years to the time when everything changed. It had been happening more and more over the past weeks, as if something was closing in on her.

Was God telling her something?

As she locked up, she stopped at the door and considered the line of prayer from St. Francis posted there: “It is in dying that we are born into eternal life.”

She thought about it for a moment, then headed for the street. On the bus, she looked at the banner ads for unwanted pregnancies, condoms, distress centers, police tip lines urging people to report suspicious behavior. We live in a world of pain and we all have our crosses to bear.

She closed her eyes.

Her bus ascended the hills between First Hill and Yesler Terrace, toward a small enclave of clean, modest buildings straddling the eastern edges of the two neighborhoods. Mercifully, it was a short ride.

Echoes of distant sirens and a far-off car alarm greeted her at her stop, reminding her of a recent rash of car prowlings and a few break-ins at the fringes of her neighborhood.

Walking along the rain-slicked sidewalk, she saw the high-rise luxury condos of First Hill towering over the public housing properties of Yesler Terrace. Beyond them, across I-5, Seattle’s glittering skyline rose into the night. To the north she saw the Space Needle, to the south, the stadiums where the Mariners and her beloved Seahawks played.

Sister Anne’s home was a few short blocks away in the cluster of well-kept town houses. A generous parishioner had donated one to the archdiocese. Hers was the middle building. She reached for the door and stopped cold.

It was slightly ajar.

Goodness.

Her concern melted to annoyance. It had a temperamental mechanism. Upon entering, she’d detected the aroma of baked onions, pepperoni, peppers, and cheese and sighed. Her new neighbors, the young nuns from Canada, were partial to pizza every now and then but had yet to master the trick of completely locking the front door. Well, the silver lining here was that it spared her from fiddling with her front-door keys. Inside, the building was quiet as Sister Anne climbed the stairs to her second-floor apartment, where she lived alone.

Evening prayer, a cup of tea, and a bit of rest for her weary bones. She flicked on the lights of her small apartment and felt a ping of unease. Something wasn’t right. She couldn’t put her finger on it but something felt
wrong.

Oh, it’s nothing.

She was being silly because she was exhausted. But hanging up her jacket, she still couldn’t shake a niggling feeling of
a presence.
Something in the air. The smell of cigarettes? But no one in this building smoked.

She stepped into the hallway leading to her bedroom and froze.

Her clothes cascaded from her dresser drawers. Her closet had been ransacked.

Someone’s been here.

She looked toward her phone. A floorboard creaked and before she could react, a strong, gloved hand reached from behind and covered her mouth. A large, rock-hard arm hooked her neck in a viselike grip, crushing her windpipe, lifting her body. Her toes brushed against her hardwood floor as she was carried to the bathroom and her face thrust before the mirror.

The eyes of her attacker stared into hers.

He held her there long enough for her to recognize him and exhume long-buried pain. Then a knife blade glinted at her throat.

“Scream and you’ll die,” he said. “Understand?”

She nodded and he loosened his hold over her mouth.

“You know why I’m here.”

She knew.

“It’s gone,” she swallowed. “I told you, it’s gone.”

“You’re lying! Where is it?”

His grip tightened until she whimpered. The blade scraped over her skin, breaking it. Blood webbed down her neck, tears filled her eyes, and she said, “We can never erase the sins of our past.”

His anger burned.

“No,” he said, “but we can pay for them.”

Her eyes widened suddenly as the blade sliced deep across her throat. Her hands tried to stem the blood.

“I forgive you,” she whispered.

He let her collapse gently to the floor as if she were his dance partner. He watched her struggle for something in her pocket. A rosary. Her blood-stained fingers squeezed it. He watched for several moments until Sister Anne’s face emptied of life. Then he returned to her bedroom and resumed shuffling through her personal papers and photographs.

Stopping at a recent snapshot of a boy. Searching the kid’s eyes and face, the man studied it long and hard until he almost smiled. He now had the link to the thing that belonged to him.

All he had to do was claim it before time ran out.

Chapter Two

S
omething was going on around Yesler Terrace.

Jason Wade, the lone reporter working the night cop desk at
The Seattle Mirror,
concentrated on the bank of radios scanning the major emergency frequencies for the city. Amid the traffic of nonstop chatter, he caught a telltale hint of emotion in a dispatcher’s voice.

But the call was drowned out by police-coded cross-talk from unrelated transmissions. Jason cursed under his breath and locked on to the channel. Maybe he could pick it up again. He tried, but it was futile.

Sounded like some sort of activity in the Central District. East Precinct. But what?

One minute passed, then another. He heard nothing more. His call to the duty desk at the precinct went to voice mail. Instinct told him to keep the channel locked because he couldn’t risk missing a single story these days.

Not on this shift.

On this shift, getting beat on a story would get him fired. He wrapped up a seventy-five-word metro brief on a stabbing near the university—a petty drug deal gone bad. The victim would live.

He finished his cold clubhouse sandwich from the cafeteria and surveyed the deserted newsroom. Most of the night copy crew had left after putting the first edition to bed. The editorial assistant was upstairs delivering papers to the executive offices. The last deskers on duty to handle any more late edition replates were in a far corner, marking time, discussing sports scores and a crossword puzzle.

Several floors below, the
Mirror
’s German-made presses were rolling off tomorrow’s first edition, making the building hum. Sitting there, alone with the police radios, Jason took stock of his desk and his life. Here it was, amid the empty take-out containers, the stale junk food, the old news releases, old story files, used-up notebooks, and the front-page exclusives he’d broken for the
Mirror.

He was a crime reporter at a major metropolitan daily.

It was all he’d ever wanted to be.

And now, it was all hanging by a thread.

In the two years since he’d won his staff job through the
Mirror
’s internship competition, he’d led the paper’s coverage on many of its biggest crime stories, “with Pulitzer-caliber reporting,” his former editors had written in his file. Sure, his way of nailing a story wasn’t always smooth because he took things to the edge. And he faced some “difficult personal circumstances.” But his passion eclipsed that of most staff veterans. And while he was still considered a rookie, there was talk of accelerating his junior reporter status to intermediate.

So how did it come to this?

How did he come to be an outcast on the most hated shift at the paper—the overnight cop beat? The answer was buried in the crap on his desk, in the letters from the lawyers with words that still burned him.


…possible proof of malice…erroneous reports implying guilt…statements were untrue…defamatory action…

Anguish and anger twisted in his gut.

Stop this and forget about it. It’s over, man, just leave it alone.

He cranked up the scanners and left his desk, thinking about other things. The
Mirror
was a few blocks north of downtown, at Harrison and 4th. The newsroom was on the seventh floor; its far wall was made of floor-to-ceiling glass that looked to the west. Watching the running lights of the boats cutting across Elliott Bay, he told himself for the millionth time that the thing with Brian Pillar never should’ve happened.

It was two months ago.

Pillar had been lost and had stopped his van to ask for directions from the two women standing on a corner. At that time, the Seattle police were conducting an undercover prostitution sting. Jason had helped arrange ride-along access for Cassie Appleton, a new general assignment reporter, and Joe Freel, a photographer for the
Mirror.
Cassie was doing a profile of the neighborhood’s outrage over a chronic hooker problem and increased crime.

It was Cassie’s story, Eldon Reep, the metro editor, told Jason. Other than getting her a ride-along, Cassie did not need Jason’s help.

Fine, but things took a twist when Brian Pillar was arrested for solicitation, along with ten other johns in the sweep. The
Mirror
had exclusive news photos of “hookers” leaning into their vehicles, and pictures of the accused men being handcuffed, arrested, and taken to jail.

Brian Pillar was a school principal.

“They just took him away! His wife’s a paraplegic, or something. They’ve got three daughters,” Cassie was breathless over the phone. “He should know better. I’m going to nail him by making him the lead in my feature.”

Jason cautioned her. Jumping to conclusions at the outset of a sting could be risky.

“Cassie, you’ve got to be careful with these stories; sometimes guys are arrested but are never charged, for whatever reason. You should wait until you have it confirmed,” he said.

“He’s
so guilty
—you should’ve seen his face. I don’t know this police stuff, Jason. Besides, the cops trust you. Can you help me confirm the charges? I called Eldon and he wants to run the story tomorrow on page one as hard news instead of a feature next week! I need help, now!”

“I’m not touching it. It’s all yours. Good luck.”

“Jason, listen,” she dropped her voice. “I need your help. Eldon’s afraid that the
Times
and
P-I
might get wind of the school principal’s arrest and steal my story. He told me to tell you to help me. Please. I need this now.”

Jason hated how this was being handled. First he was nudged from a crime story, then he was told to help—and by a reporter, not an editor. It spelled trouble. But after considering his situation, he made a snap decision, then made some calls. He confirmed that nine of the ten men were charged.

The one man not charged was Brian Pillar, the principal, he told Cassie.

“Turns out the guy was on his way to pick up some part for his wife’s wheelchair and
really was lost.
The others were local street types, known to police, that sort of thing. Guess that takes your story down a peg,” he said.

“Damn. Are you sure? Because the suburban school principal is exactly what I need to make my story stronger.” She was frantic. “I’ll talk to Eldon.”

Don’t let the facts get in the way, Jason joked to no one. Seriously, with its drama diminished, Cassie’s story would surely go deep inside the paper, he’d reasoned. But his jaw dropped the next morning as Brian Pillar’s face stared back at him from a front page story that featured him prominently as a “suspected John,” along with the other men who were arrested.

Principal One of 10 “Johns” Arrested In Neighborhood Hooker Sting

Cassie’s story quoted Pillar pleading with the
Mirror
not to publish his name or picture. “I had nothing to do with that sort of business. I’m begging you to please think of my wife, our daughters, my students. My school. Please.”

But there was the news photo of Pillar in handcuffs along with the undeniable fact of his arrest, which was not the same as a charge. Even though he wasn’t charged, he looked guilty in the
Mirror
’s photo and under that headline. The story also quoted an unsympathetic community activist. “I do not feel sorry for him. When these men are caught with their pants down, they will say anything, except the truth.”

That morning Jason got a call from a detective he knew.

“Nice number today on the principal, Wade. We told you he’d been cleared. It was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“It’s not my story. I don’t know why they played it like that. I guess Cassie will have to follow this up by talking to him and clarifying things.”

“That might be a challenge, Ace.”

“Why?”

“Brian Pillar hanged himself in his garage this morning with an extension cord. His oldest daughter found him, managed to cut him down with a hedge trimmer and call 9-1-1.”

“Jesus, is he alive?”

“Barely.”

Brian Pillar survived and recovered, and the
Mirror
paid him a “six-figure amount” in a quick out-of-court settlement that also involved a front-page retraction and a presentation on journalistic responsibility to be given by senior editors to Pillar’s school board. Before all that happened, Cassie Appleton and Eldon Reep blamed Jason for the mess.

“How can you blame me? I was never part of Cassie’s story.”

“She called you for help,” Reep said.

“And I told her he was not charged, that she’d better be careful.”

“That’s not Cassie’s account. She’s informed me that you clearly told her,” Eldon picked up a legal pad with handwritten notes, “that all the men had been arrested and charged.”

“She’s dead wrong!”

“Are you calling her a liar?”

Jason met Reep’s cold stare.

Be careful, he told himself.

Cassie Appleton was one of Reep’s hires. Reep had replaced Fritz Spangler as metro editor a few months ago. Reep was a Seattle native who’d worked at the rival
Seattle Times
before leaving for Toronto to help launch the new daily, the
Canada News Observer.
After sixteen months, the new paper and Reep’s marriage had folded. He wanted to return to Seattle, made some calls, and landed Spangler’s old job.

Reep wanted to recharge the
Mirror
’s newsroom. One of his first new hires was Cassie Appleton. She’d worked at some small midwest triweekly but had won some obscure writing awards. She never smiled. She focused on her ambition to get the city hall beat, to use it as a stepping-stone to the state bureau in Olympia and then the
Mirror
’s national bureau in Washington, D.C.

According to the newsroom gossip, Cassie was a home wrecker who’d been cast out of her small town following a torrid affair with her managing editor.

Reep was rumored to have a thing for her.

So be very careful,
Jason told himself.

“Answer me, Wade. Are you calling Cassie a liar?”

“Yes.”

“And you can prove this, how?”

Jason couldn’t prove it and immediately realized what was going to happen. He was going to be the scapegoat for this.

And he was right.

Eldon suspended him for a week, then put him on nights indefinitely while he decided his fate, informing Jason that one missed story, or one mistake, would end his employment with the
Mirror.

“—
all units…we have a report of a…

The scanners yanked Jason’s attention back to police matters and his desk. He adjusted the settings but was again frustrated by fragmented cross-talk coming out of the Central District area near First Hill—no wait—that’s closer to Yesler Terrace. What the heck was happening out there?


…report of a second car prowling…

Car prowling? Is that all? No story there.

Jason was relieved, on the verge of releasing the channel and his concern when somewhere in the static storm of a broken transmission he heard, “
…nun’s apartment…send it to you on your MDT…

Nun’s apartment? What’s going on?
Jason knew there were several buildings owned by the Archdiocese.
And now they were using the Mobile Data Terminal.
Better try the precinct, he thought, reaching for his phone when it startled him by ringing with an incoming call.


Seattle Mirror.

“I’m calling for Jason Wade—is he at this number?”

“You got me.”

The stranger’s voice was coming from the din of a party crowd, the sounds of a cash register, and chinking glass.

“I’m calling about your father.”


My father?
What about him? Is he all right?”

“He asked me to call, he says he needs you here right away.”

“What, where is he and who are you? What’s going on, is he hurt?”

“Look, I’m delivering the message. He’s here at the Ice House Bar, he said you know where it is and that it’s an emergency. I gotta go.”

Bar.

Jason buried his face in his hands.

He’s at a damn bar. I don’t need this, Dad. Not now.

The scanner crackled with another fragment.

What was going on near Yesler Terrace?

BOOK: A Perfect Grave
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