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Authors: Nora Roberts

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BOOK: Sacred Sins
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Ignoring his coffee, Ben drew on the cigarette. “None of the victims were particularly hefty. Barbara Clayton was the biggest at five-four and a hundred and twenty.”

“Terror and adrenaline bring on surges of strength,” she countered. “Your assumption from the reports is that he takes them by surprise, from behind.”

“We assume that from the angle and location of the bruises.”

“I think I follow that,” she said briskly, and pushed her glasses up again. It wasn't easy to demoralize a clod. “None of the victims was able to scratch his face or there'd have been cells of flesh under their nails. Have I got that right?” Before he could answer, she turned pointedly to Ed. “So, he's smart enough to want to avoid questionable marks. It doesn't appear he kills sporadically, but plans in an orderly, even logical fashion. Their clothing,” she went on. “Was it disturbed, buttons undone, seams torn, shoes kicked off?”

Ed shook his head, admiring the way she dove into details. “No, ma'am. All three were neat as a pin.”

“And the murder weapon, the amice?”

“Folded across the chest.”

“A tidy psychotic,” Ben put in.

Tess merely lifted a brow. “You're quick to diagnose, Detective Paris. But rather than
tidy
, I'd use the word
reverent
.”

By holding up a single finger, Harris stopped Ben's retort. “Could you explain that, Doctor?”

“I can't give you a thorough profile without some more study, Captain, but I think I can give you a general outline. The killer's obviously deeply religious, and I'd guess trained traditionally.”

“So you're going for the priest angle?”

Again she turned to Ben. “The man may have been in a religious order at one time, or simply have a fascination, even a fear of the authority of the Church. His use of the amice is a symbol, to himself, to us, even to his victims. It might be used in a rebellious way, but I'd rule that out by the notes. Since all three victims were of the same age group, it tends to indicate that they represent some important female figure in his life. A mother, a wife, lover, sister. Someone who was or is intimate on an emotional level. My feeling is this figure failed him in some way, through the Church.”

“A sin?” Ben blew out a stream of smoke.

He might've been a clod, she mused, but he wasn't stupid. “The definition of a sin varies,” she said coolly. “But yes, a sin in his eyes, probably a sexual one.”

He hated the calm, impersonal analysis. “So he's punishing her through other women?”

She heard the derision in his voice, and closed the folder. “No, he's saving them.”

Ben opened his mouth again, then shut it. It made a horrible kind of sense.

“That's the one aspect I find absolutely clear,” Tess said as she turned back to Harris. “It's in the notes, all of them. The man's put himself in the role of savior.

From the lack of violence, I'd say he has no wish to punish. If it were revenge, he'd be brutal, cruel, and he'd want them to be aware of what was going to happen to them. Instead, he kills them as quickly as possible, then tidies their clothes, crosses the amice in a gesture of reverence, and leaves a note stating that they're saved.”

Taking off her glasses, she twirled them by the eyepiece. “He doesn't rape them. More than likely he's impotent with women, but more important, a sexual assault would be a sin. Possibly, probably, he derives some sort of sexual release from the killing, but more a spiritual one.”

“A religious fanatic,” Harris mused.

“Inwardly,” Tess told him. “Outwardly he probably functions normally for long periods of times. The murders are spaced weeks apart, so it would appear he has a level of control. He could very well hold down a normal job, socialize, attend church.”

“Church.” Ben rose and paced to the window.

“Regularly, I'd think. It's his focal point. If this man isn't a priest, he takes on the aspects of one during the murders. In his mind, he's ministering.”

“Absolution,” Ben murmured. “The last rites.”

Intrigued, Tess narrowed her eyes. “Exactly.”

Not knowing much about the Church, Ed turned to another topic. “A schizophrenic?”

Tess frowned down at her glasses as she shook her head. “Schizophrenia, manic depression, split personality. Labels are too easily applied and tend to generalize.”

She didn't notice that Ben turned back and stared at her. She pushed her glasses back in their case and dropped them in her purse. “Every psychiatric disorder is a highly individual problem, and each problem can only be understood and dealt with by uncovering its dynamic sources.”

“I'd rather work with specifics myself,” Harris told
her. “But there's a premium on them in this case. Are we dealing with a psychopath?”

Her expression changed subtly. Impatience, Ben thought, noting the slight line between her brows and a quick movement of her mouth. Then she was professional again. “If you want a general term,
psychopathy
will do. It means mental disorder.”

Ed stroked his beard. “So he's insane.”


Insanity
is a legal term, Detective.” This was said almost primly as Tess picked up the folder and rose. “Once he's stopped and taken to trial, that'll become an issue. I'll have a profile for you as soon as possible, Captain. It might help if I could see the notes that were left on the bodies, and the murder weapons.”

Dissatisfied, Harris rose. He wanted more. Though he knew better, he wanted A, B, and C, and the lines connecting each. “Detective Paris'll show you whatever you need to see. Thank you, Dr. Court.”

She took his hand. “You've little to thank me for at this point. Detective Paris?”

“Right this way.” With a cursory nod he led her out.

He said nothing as he took her through the corridors again and to the checkpoint where they signed in to examine the evidence. Tess was silent as well as she studied the notes and the neat, precise printing. They didn't vary, and were exact to the point that they seemed almost like photostats. The man who'd written them, she mused, hadn't been in a rage or in despair. If anything, he'd been at peace. It was peace he sought, and peace, in his twisted way, he sought to give.

“White for purity,” she murmured after she'd looked at the amices. A symbol perhaps, she mused. But for whom? She turned away from the notes. More than the murder weapons, they chilled her. “It appears he's a man with a mission.”

Ben remembered the sick frustration he'd felt after
each murder, but his voice was cool and flat. “You sound sure of yourself, Doctor.”

“Do I?” Turning back, she gave him a brief survey, mulled things over, then went on impulse. “What time are you off duty, Detective?”

He tilted his head, not quite certain of his moves. “Ten minutes ago.”

“Good.” She pulled on her coat. “You can buy me a drink and tell me why you dislike my profession, or just me personally. I give you my word, no tabletop analysis.”

Something about her challenged him. The cool, elegant looks, the strong, sophisticated voice. Maybe it was the big, soft eyes. He'd think about it later. “No fee?”

She laughed and stuck her hat in her pocket. “We might have hit the root of the problem.”

“I need my coat.” As they walked back to the squad room, each of them wondered why they were about to spend part of their evening with someone who so obviously disapproved of who and what they were. But then each of them was determined to come out on top before the evening was over. Ben grabbed his coat and scrawled something in a ledger.

“Charlie, tell Ed I'm engaged in further consultation with Dr. Court.”

“You file that requisition?”

Ben shifted Tess almost like a shield and headed for the door. “File?”

“Damn it, Ben—”

“Tomorrow, in triplicate.” He had himself and Tess out of earshot and nearly to the outer door.

“Don't care much for paperwork?” she said.

He pushed the door open and saw the rain had turned to a damp drizzle. “It's not the most rewarding part of the job.”

“What is?”

He gave her an enigmatic look as he steered her toward his car. “Catching bad guys.”

Oddly enough, she believed him.

Ten minutes later they walked into a dimly lit bar where the music came from a jukebox and the drinks weren't watered. It wasn't one of Washington's most distinguished night spots, nor one of its seamiest. It seemed to Tess a place where the regulars knew each other by name and newcomers were accepted gradually.

Ben sent the bartender a careless wave, exchanged a muffled word with one of the cocktail waitresses, and found a table in the back. Here the music was muted and the lights even dimmer. The table rocked a bit on one shortened leg.

The minute he sat down, he relaxed. This was his turf, and he knew his moves. “What'll you have?” He waited for her to ask for some pretty white wine with a French name.

“Scotch, straight up.”

“Stolichnaya,” he told the waitress as he continued to watch Tess. “Rocks.” He waited until the silence stretched out, ten seconds, then twenty. An interesting silence, he thought, full of questions and veiled animosity. Maybe he'd throw her a curve. “You have incredible eyes.”

She smiled, and leaned back comfortably. “I would have thought you'd come up with something more original.”

“Ed liked your legs.”

“I'm surprised he could see them from his height. He's not like you,” she observed. “I imagine you make an impressive team. Leaving that aside, Detective Paris, I'm interested in why you distrust my profession.”

“Why?”

When her drink was served, she sipped it slowly. It
warmed in places the coffee hadn't touched. “Curiosity. It comes with the territory. After all, we're both in the business of looking for answers, solving puzzles.”

“You see our jobs as similar?” The thought made him grin. “Cops and shrinks.”

“Perhaps I find your job as unpleasant as you find mine,” she said mildly. “But they're both necessary as long as people don't behave in what society terms normal patterns.”

“I don't like terms.” He tipped back his drink. “I don't have much confidence in someone who sits behind a desk probing people's brains, then putting their personalities into slots.”

“Well.” She sipped her drink again and heard the music turn to something dreamy by Lionel Richie. “That's how you term psychiatrists?”

“Yeah.”

She nodded. “I suppose you have to tolerate a great deal of bigotry in your profession as well.”

Something dangerous flashed in his eyes, then it was gone, just as quickly. “Your point, Doctor.”

She tapped a finger on the table, the only outward sign of emotion. He had an admirable capacity for stillness. She had already noticed that in Harris's office. Yet she sensed a restlessness in him. It was difficult not to appreciate the way he held it in check.

“All right, Detective Paris, why don't you make
your
point?”

After swirling his vodka, he set it down without drinking. “Okay. Maybe I see you as someone raking in bucks off frustrated housewives and bored executives. Everything harks back to sex or mother hating. You answer questions with questions and never raise a sweat. Fifty minutes goes by and you click over to the next file. When someone really needs help, when
someone's desperate, it gets passed over. You label it, file it, and go on to the next hour.”

For a moment she said nothing because under the anger, she heard grief. “It must've been a very bad experience,” she murmured. “I'm sorry.”

Uncomfortable, he shifted. “No tabletop analysis,” he reminded her.

A very bad experience, she thought again. But he wasn't a man who wanted sympathy. “All right, let's try a different angle. You're a homicide detective. I guess all you do all day is two-wheel it down dark alleys with guns blazing. You dodge a few bullets in the morning, slap the cuffs on in the afternoon, then read the suspect his rights and haul him in for interrogation. Is that general enough for you?”

A reluctant smile touched his mouth. “Pretty clever, aren't you?”

“So I've been told.”

It wasn't like him to make absolute judgments of someone he didn't know. His innate sense of fair play struggled with a long, ingrained prejudice. He signaled for another drink. “What's your first name. I'm tired of calling you Dr. Court.”

“Yours is Ben.” She gave him a smile that made him focus on her mouth again. “Teresa.”

“No.” He shook his head. “That's not what you're called. Teresa's too ordinary. Terry doesn't have enough class.”

She leaned forward and dropped her chin on her folded hands. “You might be a good detective after all. It's Tess.”

“Tess.” He tried it out slowly, then nodded. “Very nice. Tell me, Tess, why psychiatry?”

She watched him a moment, admiring the easy way he sprawled in his seat. Not indolent, she thought, not
sloppy, just relaxed. She envied that. “Curiosity,” she said again. “The human mind is full of unanswered questions. I wanted to find the answers. If you can find the answers, you can help, sometimes. Heal the mind, ease the heart.”

It touched him. The simplicity. “Ease the heart,” he repeated, and thought of his brother. No one had been able to ease his. “You think if you heal one, you can ease the other?”

“It's the same thing.” Tess looked beyond him to a couple who huddled laughing over a pitcher of beer.

“I thought all you got paid to do was look in heads.”

Her lips curved a little, but her eyes still focused beyond him. “The mind, the heart, and the soul. ‘Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased. Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow. Raze out the written troubles of the brain, and with some sweet oblivious antidote cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon the heart.’”

He'd lifted his gaze from his drink as she'd spoken. Her voice remained quiet, but he'd stopped hearing the juke, the clatter, the laughter.

“Macbeth.”
When she smiled at him, he shrugged. “Cops read too.”

Tess lifted her glass in what might have been a toast. “Maybe we should both reevaluate.”

BOOK: Sacred Sins
3.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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