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Authors: Rick Mofina

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BOOK: A Perfect Grave
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Chapter Five

J
ason got his old man into a cab and sent him home.

It was good that he’d called, good that he didn’t drink and that he was trying to open up, but they’d have to talk later. Jason had his hands full with a story.

He laid rubber pulling his Falcon from the Ice House Bar and the neighborhood rushed by with his fears. Man, everything was at stake because after his dad and his job at the
Mirror
, what did he have in his life?

Seriously.

He had squat.

After things had ended with Valerie, he’d started up with Grace Garner and it was going great. Until she broke it off, saying that their jobs complicated things. That was a head-shaker. He thought they’d connected. He thought they had something real happening until—
wham
—she breaks it off.

He didn’t get it.

Then he’d heard she was with some FBI guy. That was months ago. Jason hadn’t seen her since and, if fate was kind, he wouldn’t see her tonight. Picking through his CDs he played a live cut of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” from the
BBC Sessions
, letting its ferocity pound Grace out of his mind as he upshifted to the murder.

A nun.

Everyone would be all over this one. He had to get on top of it, had to concentrate on the story.

As he drove, he alerted the night news assistant to wake up the on-duty night photographer and get him to the scene. Then he tried in vain to reach the East Precinct sergeant for any new info, while gleaning whatever he could from his portable scanner. But he wasn’t hearing much. Wheeling through the fringes of Yesler Terrace, he glanced up at the glittering condos of First Hill, soaring over the public housing projects.

This was not the crime scene.

He went farther, coming upon a tangle of marked cars, radios crackling, emergency lights washing a group of well-kept town houses in red.

Blood red.

Yellow crime-scene tape protected the yard of one of them.
The place of death.
People stood at the tape, craning their necks; others watched from their windows, balconies, and doorsteps as a uniformed officer waved Jason’s Falcon away from the building.

“Can’t stop here, pal.”

Jason showed him his press ID.

“Take it on down the street.”

After parking, he sifted among the newspapers and old take-out containers on his passenger seat for a fresh notebook and a pen that worked. He knew the anatomy of a homicide investigation, knew what to look for, and he took stock of the scene as he approached it. He couldn’t believe it. No other news types in sight. Not even Chet Bonner, the Channel 93 night stalker, the camera guy who only came out at night.

Where was everybody? Had the press pack missed this one?

Judging from the array of official cars, this party had started long ago. There were unmarked Malibus, indicating the homicide detectives were here, the Crime Scene Investigation Unit vehicle was here, even the King County Medical Examiner’s Office had its people on-site. He scanned the rubberneckers for a hint of someone who might have a bit of information. That’s when a flash from above caught his attention.

Second story. Southwest window.

There it was again. A small explosion of brilliant light filling the room. Then another one as silhouetted figures moved, then stood dead still. Flash. Then the shadows repositioned themselves. Another flash. That would be the crime-scene people, or the homicide detectives, taking pictures.

Photographing the body of a dead nun.

Sadness rippled through him as he gnawed on the fact, holding it long enough for it to turn into quiet anger. What kind of sub-evolved life-form kills a nun? The camera flashes spilled into the night onto the building next door and the window directly opposite, illuminating a figure who was watching the scene. Looked like a woman, an older woman, cupping her face with her hands.

Here we go, he thought. That lady’s got to know something.

The building was beyond the tape and not sealed. Patrol officers were coming and going. Some carried clipboards with documents that were likely preliminary witness statements, Jason judged from the glimpse he’d stolen.

“We’re done in this building, Lyle,” one officer said into his shoulder mike as he stopped Jason at the door with a question: “Do you live here, sir?”

“No, I’m a reporter with the
Mirror
, I’ve got business upstairs.”

“Reporter?” The cop eyeballed him, checking out the silver stud earring in Jason’s left lobe, then the few day’s growth of whiskers that suggested a Vandyke.

“Got some ID for me?”

Jason held up his laminated photo ID. The officer reviewed it just as his radio crackled. “
Bobby, can you
—” Static garbled the call and the officer stepped away, speaking into his mike. “You’re breaking up. Can you repeat that?”

“Bob, we need you out back, now.”

Out back? Did they find something?

Jason had to make a judgment call. Go out back or get inside and attempt to get to a witness. At that moment, another officer approached, entered the building, and Jason caught the door before it closed. With the first officer distracted, Jason followed the second one into the building and, unopposed, made his way to the door of the second-story corner unit and knocked.

Several locks clicked before the door was opened by the woman he’d seen at the window. She looked to be in her late sixties, was wearing a long sweater and slippers. Worry creased her face.

“Yes?”

“Jason Wade, a reporter with the
Mirror.
” He detected the thick smell of cats as he handed her his card. “Sorry to trouble you, but I was hoping you could help me with a moment of your time, please.”

“The press? Goodness, no. I don’t think I should say anything.”

“Please, ma’am. I need to get a few things clear for my story.”

“I’m sorry, dear.”

“Ma’am, you know how people are always saying we get it wrong, or make it up. I need to get it right, please.”

“I know, dear, but I just spoke to the officers and they told me not to talk to anybody until the detectives come by and talk to me.” She looked back to her large window and the camera flashes that were ongoing next door. “I hope everything’s all right,” she turned back to Jason. “I gather it was some sort of robbery at Sister Anne’s apartment. Probably those drug dealers. We’ve had some burglaries recently.”

Some sort of robbery? She doesn’t know what happened but she had a name.

“I’m sorry, you said, Sister Anne? And that’s who lives in that unit with all the activity?”

“Yes, she’s got a small apartment in the town house. Lives there with the other nuns. Saints, all of them. Devoted to the neighborhood. You know, they run the Compassionate Heart shelter downtown.”

Over the woman’s shoulder, through her window to the street, Jason saw the call letters of a TV news van. He didn’t have time, he had to push this.

“Look, ma’am, that’s the kind of information I need. Would it be okay for me to take some notes?”

“I shouldn’t, I’m not sure. The police—”

“They’ll probably tell us everything eventually but this will help.”

“I guess it’d be all right. Everyone knows about our nuns, but I can’t tell you everything I told the police.”

Jason nodded as he wrote quickly.

“I understand, but did you see anything going on at Sister Anne’s?”

As the woman pulled her hands to her face to consider his question, he glimpsed a car from the
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
roll to a stop outside, saw a photographer and reporter step from it while his source wrestled with a decision.

“Excuse me, ma’am, but did you notice anything out of the ordinary?”

“Yes, I saw something strange.” The woman’s face intensified as the curtain rose on an insight. “It’s not a burglary, is it? Something’s happened to Sister Anne.”

Chapter Six

S
ister Anne stared at the ceiling.

Blood laced her face and the graying streaks of her dark hair. It drenched her Seattle Seahawks sweatshirt and jeans. Her bathroom floor was submerged under the torrent that had hemorrhaged from her gaping neck wound. The tiny silver cross she wore had slid down into it. Her rosary was entwined around her fingers in a blood-caked death grip.

The room flared with another burst of white light as the crime-scene photographer continued recording the scene.

Her eyes registered calm, peace, even acceptance. They were not frozen in the wide-eyed disbelief that was common among homicide victims, Grace Garner thought, sketching the scene, taking notes, and wondering if, in the dying moment of her life, Sister Anne saw God.

“Grace?” Perelli called from a few feet away. Like her, he was wearing shoe covers and white latex gloves while taking careful inventory of the small, cell-like bedroom. “Look at this. What do you think?”

The sheets of her narrow, single bed had been twisted. Above it, the cross and painting of Mary had been pushed out of position. The wooden nightstand had been toppled; a King James Bible and a tattered paperback edition of
The Agony and the Ecstasy
were splayed on the floor, and pages torn from both books were scattered.

“I can’t believe nobody in this building heard nothing,” Perelli said.

Sister Anne’s small closet and her four-drawer dresser had been rifled, her personal papers and photographs strewn about the room. The air held the scent of soap, laundered linen, and something familiar.

“I smell cigarettes and these nuns don’t smoke,” Grace said.

“Could be from our suspect?”

Grace nodded, frustrated that they had no witnesses and no weapon. No suspect description to put out. No path of inquiry to take. They had a canvass going but so far it had yielded nothing promising. She knew that the first hours of an investigation were critical and that the chances for a break melted with each minute.

She pushed a theory at Perelli.

“So he’s in here looking for something and she comes upon him.”

“What’s the prick looking for?” Perelli pushed back. “She’s a nun. She’s got no money. There’s no apparent sexual assault. She’s got nothing. She’s taken a vow of poverty, or something, right? Hell, her furniture’s secondhand, donated stuff. So what’s he want?”

“A crackhead from the shelter, maybe? And he’s thinking, maybe there’s a collection, a donation? He follows her from the shelter? I don’t know, Dom. Maybe it’s something else? We need a break here.”

“There’s no forced entry. No sign of it, anyway. They’ve got a problem with the lock at the front door downstairs. And this apartment door’s got a simple warded lock. Hell, any child could use a toothbrush to beat it.”

Grace flipped through her notes.

“Is it random, Grace, or you think she knew him?”

“I’m thinking it’s time to talk to Sister Florence.”

A handful of nuns lived in Sister Anne’s building. The halls were adorned with pictures of saints. The main floor had a large common area with a kitchen and a dining room where the sisters ate meals together. Sister Florence was being comforted there by older women. All of them were wearing jogging pants, cotton nightgowns, or baggy pullover sweaters or T-shirts.

Their clothes were streaked brown with dried blood.

All were crying.

“I’m Detective Grace Garner and this is Detective Dominic Perelli,” Grace said. “We’re sorry for your loss. Please accept our sympathies.”

“Why would anyone do this?” Monique, one of the older sisters, asked.

“We’re going to do all we can to find out,” Perelli said. “But we’re going to need your help.”

Grace consulted her notes. “We’d like to talk to Sister Florence, privately?”

Pressing a crumpled tissue to her mouth, Sister Florence nodded, then led Garner and Perelli along the creaking hardwood floor to the far end of the building and a room that served as a chapel. It had an organ, hard-back chairs, and a large stained-glass window, a gift made by inmates the nuns had counseled in prison.

A few sisters had left the chapel moments earlier after a prayer session for Sister Anne. Votive candles flickered in red, blue, green, orange, purple, and yellow glass cups. One had gone out. As Sister Florence relit it, Grace reviewed the short statement she’d given to the first responding officer. Sister Florence had moved to Seattle last summer from Quebec, where she was serving with the order in Montreal. At age twenty-nine, she was the youngest sister who lived here.

Sister Florence had discovered Sister Anne.

Grace met her green, tear-filled eyes. Her young well-scrubbed face was a portrait of heartbreak and unshakeable faith as she recounted finding her friend.

“Tonight was our pizza and old movie night. We were watching
Norma Rae
and I decided to see if Sister Anne had returned and to invite her to join us.”

“Was the downstairs front door locked?”

“We’re not sure. It doesn’t lock if you don’t push it fully closed and we’re all guilty of that at times, especially when you’ve got your hands full, like with a pizza.”

“The pizza was delivered? Who received it?”

Sister Florence covered her face with her hands.

“I did.”

“Did you lock the front door completely?”

“I don’t know. I’m so sorry. I should’ve checked. Oh Lord, forgive me.”

Grace gave her a moment.

“Tell us about your apartment doors and who has keys.”

Sister Florence held out a key.

“We each have a key to our apartments and lock our doors when we’re out, or need privacy. We know these old locks don’t offer much security inside, but we’re a family.”

“Sister,” Perelli had something on his chest, “with all due respect, you’re living in the inner city, and with that front door practically open and your antique locks, don’t you think you’re taking a huge risk with your safety?”

“We never believed we had enemies.”

“Until tonight,” he said. “Get that front lock fixed and the others changed. Grace, we’d need to get some uniforms posted here and have Central patrol this area.”

“Okay, Dom.” Sensing Perelli’s growing anger over the nun’s death, Grace steered matters back to the investigation. “Sister, can you think of anyone at all who might have wanted to hurt Sister Anne?”

“No.”

“Someone from the shelter? An ex-criminal, or a husband or boyfriend looking for his abused wife, an addict, or someone violent or with psychological problems?”

“She was an angel of mercy. Everyone loved her.”

“We understand the order was involved in spiritual counseling at prisons and for those released to the community.”

“That’s right.”

“Did she ever mention a problem, or fear, concerning any of them?”

“No. Nothing like that.”

“Maybe something in her background, or past?”

“She was so quiet about herself, entirely devoted to others. You might want to ask the sisters from Mother House.”

“Mother House?”

“Headquarters of our order. Sister Vivian is on her way from Chicago.”

“Sister, please think hard now. Did you notice, hear, or see anything different tonight?”

“No.”

“No one heard anything strange going on? A struggle? A cry for help?”

Florence shut her eyes tight and shook her head.

“No, we didn’t hear anything. Most of the nuns are older and their hearing isn’t so good, so we usually play the sound of the movie quite loud. We even tell the pizza guy to knock hard.”

“All right, so you went upstairs to see if Sister Anne had returned from the shelter and invite her for pizza and a movie. What happened?”

Sister Florence paused to swallow.

“Her door was open just a crack, usually our signal that you’ll accept a visitor. Oh good, she’s home, I thought and I knocked. But I didn’t get a response, so I called in. And waited. She didn’t answer. Again, I called her name and I entered—”

Sister Florence gasped and her voice broke with hushed anguish.

“I saw blood, then her foot, her leg, and she was so still. I saw her neck and didn’t—couldn’t—believe my eyes. But at the same time, I knew. It felt like slow motion. I knelt down and shouted her name. I took her into my arms. She was still warm. Then I heard this deafening roar as I tried yelling her name but she didn’t answer and the others told me the deafening roar was me.”

“You?” Perelli said.

“Screaming.”

Perelli’s lower jaw muscle was twitching as his anger seethed that someone would kill a nun.

“Then the others came,” Florence said. “Someone called 9-1-1. Most all of the sisters have some sort of medical training. They checked for signs of life but we all knew that Sister Anne was dead. We were kneeling in her blood. So much blood. We took her hands and prayed over her. We didn’t stop, even as we heard the sirens, even as the officers and paramedics thudded up the stairs with their radios going, we didn’t stop praying.” Sister Florence pressed her white-knuckled fists to her mouth. “We’ll never stop praying for her.”

As the tears flowed down her cheeks, her pain clawed at Grace and she was suddenly overwhelmed. Sister Anne had lived a holy life, had devoted herself to helping those who were often beyond it. How could Grace Garner, a pathetically lonely self-doubting cop, on a losing streak, actually believe that she was skilled enough to find her killer? Grace’s secret fear burned in her gut as she glanced to the votive candles, the flames quivering with the tiny light of hope.

“Sister, what prayers did you say when you found her?”

“The Twenty-third Psalm.”

The Lord is my shepherd.

“That’s a beautiful prayer,” Grace said as a soft knock sounded at the door and a uniformed officer stuck his head into the chapel.

“My apologies for interrupting, Detective Garner, but they need you outside now. They’ve got something.”

BOOK: A Perfect Grave
7.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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