They looked like the perfect family.
This was what the boy thought as he stood beside his father's open grave, as he listened to the hired minister read platitudes from the Bible. Only a small group had gathered on that warm and buggy June day to mourn the passing of Montague Saul, no more than a dozen people, many of whom the boy had just met. For the past six months, he had been away at boarding school, and today he was seeing some of these people for the very first time. Most of them did not interest him in the least.
But his uncle's family --- they interested him very much. They were worth studying.
Dr. Peter Saul looked very much like his dead brother Montague, slender and cerebral in owlish glasses, brown hair thinning toward inevitable baldness. His wife, Amy, had a round, sweet face, and she kept darting anxious looks at her fifteen-year-old nephew, as though aching to wrap her arms around him and smother him with a hug. Their son, Teddy, was ten years old, all skinny arms and legs. A little clone of Peter Saul, right down to the same owlish glasses.
Finally, there was the daughter, Lily. Sixteen years old.
Tendrils of her hair had come loose from the ponytail and now clung to her face in the heat. She looked uncomfortable in her black dress, and she kept shifting coltishly back and forth, as though preparing to bolt. As though she'd rather be anywhere than in this cemetery, waving away buzzing insects.
They look so normal, so average, the boy thought. So different from me. Then Lily's gaze suddenly met his, and he felt a tremor of surprise. Of mutual recognition. In that instant, he could almost feel her gaze penetrating the darkest fissures of his brain, examining all the secret places that no one else had ever seen. That he'd never allowed them to see.
Disquieted, he looked away. Focused, instead, on the other people standing around the grave: His father's housekeeper. The attorney. The two next-door neighbors. Mere acquaintances who were here out of a sense of propriety, not affection. They knew Montague Saul only as the quiet scholar who'd recently returned from Cyprus, who spent his days fussing over books and maps and little pieces of pottery. They did not really know the man. Just as they did not really know his son.
At last the service ended, and the gathering moved toward the boy, like an amoeba preparing to engulf him in sympathy, to tell him how sorry they were that he'd lost his father. And so soon after moving to the United States.
"At least you have family here to help you," said the minister.
Family? Yes, I suppose these people are my family, the boy thought, as little Teddy shyly approached, urged forward by his mother.
"You're going to be my brother now," said Teddy.
"Mom has your room all ready for you. It's right next to mine."
"But I'm staying here. In my father's house."
Bewildered, Teddy looked at his mother. "Isn't he coming home with us?"
Amy Saul quickly said, "You really can't live all by yourself, dear. You're only fifteen. Maybe you'll like it so much in Purity, you'll want to stay with us."
"My school's in Connecticut."
"Yes, but the school year's over now. In September, if you want to return to your boarding school, of course you can. But for the summer, you'll come home with us."
"I won't be alone here. My mother will come for me."
There was a long silence. Amy and Peter looked at each other, and the boy could guess what they were thinking. His mother abandoned him ages ago.
"She is coming for me," he insisted.
Uncle Peter said, gently, "We'll talk about it later, son."
In the night, the boy laid awake in his bed, in his father's town house, listening to the voices of his aunt and uncle murmuring downstairs in the study. The same study where Montague Saul had labored these past months to translate his fragile little scraps of papyrus. The same study where, five days ago, he'd had a stroke and collapsed at his desk. Those people should not be in there, among his father's precious things. They were invaders in his house.
"He's still just a boy, Peter. He needs a family."
"We can't exactly drag him back to Purity if he doesn't want to come with us."
"When you're only fifteen, you have no choice in the matter. Adults have to make the decisions."
The boy rose from bed and slipped out of his room. He crept halfway down the stairs to listen in to the conversation.
"And really, how many adults has he known? Your brother didn't exactly qualify. He was so wrapped up in his old mummy linens, he probably never noticed there was a child underfoot."
"That's not fair, Amy. My brother was a good man."
"Good, but clueless. I can't imagine what kind of woman would dream of having a child with him. And then she leaves the boy behind for Monty to raise? I don't understand any woman who'd do that."
"Monty didn't do such a bad job raising him. The boy's getting top marks in school."
"That's your measurement for what makes a good father? The fact that the boy gets top marks?"
"He's also a poised young man. Look how well he held up at the service."
"He's numb, Peter. Did you see a single emotion on his face today?"
"Monty was like that, too."
"Cold-blooded, you mean?"
"No, intellectual. Logical."
"But underneath it all, you know that boy has got to be hurting. It makes me want to cry, how much he needs his mother right now. How he keeps insisting she'll come back for him, when we know she won't."
"We don't know that."
"We've never even met the woman! Monty just writes us from Cairo one day, to tell us he has a brand-new son. For all we know, he plucked him up from the reeds, like baby Moses."
The boy heard the floor creak above him, and he glanced toward the top of the stairs. He was startled to see his cousin Lily staring down at him over the banister. She was watching him, studying him, as if he were some exotic creature she'd never before encountered and she was trying to decide if he was dangerous.
"Oh!" said Aunt Amy. "You're up!"
His aunt and uncle had just come out of the study, and they were standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at him. Looking a little dismayed, too, at the possibility that he had overheard their entire conversation.
"Are you feeling all right, dear?" said Amy.
"It's so late. Maybe you should go back to bed now?"
But he didn't move. He paused on the stairs for a moment, wondering what it would be like to live with these people. What he might learn from them. It would make the summer interesting, until his mother came for him.
He said, "Aunt Amy, I've made up my mind."
"About my summer, and where I'd like to spend it."
She instantly assumed the worst. "Please don't be too hasty! We have a really nice house, right on the lake, and you'd have your own room. At least come for a visit before you decide."
"But I've decided to come stay with you."
His aunt paused, temporarily stunned. Then her face lit up in a smile, and she hurried up the steps to give him a hug. She smelled like Dove soap and Breck shampoo. So average, so ordinary. Then a grinning Uncle Peter gave him an affectionate clap on the shoulder, his way of welcoming a new son. Their happiness was like a web of spun sugar, drawing him into their universe, where all was love and light and laughter.
"The kids will be so glad you're coming back with us!" said Amy.
He glanced toward the top of the stairs, but Lily was no longer there. She had slipped away, unnoticed. I will have to keep my eye on her, he thought. Because already, she's keeping her eye on me.
"You're part of our family now," said Amy.
As they walked up the stairs together, she was already telling him her plans for the summer. All the places they'd take him, all the special meals they'd cook for him when they got back home. She sounded happy, even giddy, like a mother with her brand-new baby.
Amy Saul had no idea what they were about to bring home with them.
Twelve years later.
Perhaps this was a mistake.
Dr. Maura Isles paused outside the doors of Our Lady of Divine Light, uncertain whether she should enter. The parishioners had already filed in, and she stood alone in the night as snow whispered down onto her uncovered head. Through the closed church doors she heard the organist begin playing "Adeste Fidelis," and she knew that by now everyone would be seated. If she was going to join them, this was the time to step inside.
She hesitated, because she did not truly belong among the believers inside that church. But the music called to her, as did the promise of warmth and the solace of familiar rituals. Out here, on the dark street, she stood alone. Alone on Christmas Eve.
She walked up the steps, into the building.
Even at this late hour, the pews were filled with families and sleepy children who'd been roused from their beds for midnight Mass. Maura's tardy arrival attracted several glances, and as the strains of "Adeste Fidelis" faded, she quickly slipped into the first empty seat she could find, near the back. Almost immediately, she had to rise to her feet again, to stand with the rest of the congregation as the entrance song began. Father Daniel Brophy approached the altar and made the sign of the cross.
"The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you," he said.
"And also with you," Maura murmured along with the congregation. Even after all these years away from the church, the responses flowed naturally from her lips, ingrained there by all the Sundays of her childhood. "Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy."
Although Daniel was unaware of her presence, Maura was focused only on him. On the dark hair, the graceful gestures, the rich baritone voice. Tonight she could watch him without shame, without embarrassment. Tonight it was safe to stare.
"Bring us eternal joy in the kingdom of Heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever."
Settling back onto the bench, Maura heard muffled coughs and the whimpers of tired children. Candles flickered on the altar in a celebration of light and hope on this winter's night.
Daniel began to read. "And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people . . .' "
Saint Luke, thought Maura, recognizing the passage. Luke, the physician.
" '. . . and this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in . . .' " He paused, his gaze suddenly pausing on Maura. And she thought: Is it such a surprise to see me here tonight, Daniel?
He cleared his throat, looked down at his notes, and continued reading. " 'Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' "
Although he now knew she was seated among his flock, his gaze did not again meet hers. Not during the singing of "Cantate Domino" and "Dies Sanctificatus," not during the offertory or the liturgy of the Eucharist. As others around her rose to their feet and filed forward to receive Communion, Maura remained in her seat. If you did not believe, it was hypocrisy to partake of the Host, to sip the wine.
Then what am I doing here?
Yet she remained through the concluding rites, through the blessing and the dismissal.
"Go in the peace of Christ."
"Thanks be to God," the parishioners responded.
The Mass now ended, people began to file out of the church, buttoning coats, pulling on gloves as they shuffled to the exit. Maura, too, stood up and was just stepping into the aisle when she glimpsed Daniel trying to catch her attention, imploring her, silently, not to leave. She sat back down, conscious of the curious gazes of people as they filed past her pew. She knew what they saw, or what they imagined they saw: a lone woman, hungry for a priest's words of comfort on Christmas Eve.
Or did they see more?
She did not return their looks. As the church emptied, she stared straight ahead, stoically focused on the altar. Thinking: It's late, and I should go home. I don't know what good can possibly come of staying.
She looked up and met Daniel's gaze. The church was not yet empty. The organist was still packing up her sheet music, and several choir members were still pulling on their coats, yet at that moment Daniel's attention was so centered on Maura, she might have been the only other person in the room.
"It's been a long time since you visited," he said.
"I suppose it has been."
"Not since August, wasn't it?"
So you've been keeping track, too.
He slid onto the bench beside her. "I'm surprised to see you here."
"It's Christmas Eve, after all."
"But you don't believe."
"I still enjoy the rituals. The songs."
"That's the only reason you came? To sing a few hymns?
Chant a few Amens and Thanks be to Gods?" "I wanted to hear some music. Be around other people." "Don't tell me you're all alone tonight." She gave a shrug, a laugh. "You know me, Daniel. I'm not ex
actly a party animal." "I just thought ...I mean, I assumed . . ." "What?" "That you'd be with someone. Especially tonight."
I am. I'm with you.
They both fell silent as the organist came walking up the aisle, carrying her tote bag of music. "Good night, Father Brophy." "Good night, Mrs. Easton. Thank you for the lovely performance."
"It was a pleasure." The organist cast a final, probing glance at Maura, then continued toward the exit. They heard the door swing shut, and they were finally alone.
"So why has it been so long?" he asked.
"Well, you know the death business. It never lets up. One of our pathologists had to go into the hospital for back surgery a few weeks ago, and we've had to cover for him. It's been busy, that's all."
"You can always pick up the phone and call."
"Yes, I know." He could, too, but he never did. Daniel Brophy would never step one foot over the line, and perhaps that was a good thing --- she was struggling with enough temptation for them both.
"So how have you been?" she asked. "You know about Father Roy's stroke last month? I've stepped in as police chaplain." "Detective Rizzoli told me."
"I was at that Dorchester crime scene a few weeks ago. The police officer who was shot. I saw you there."
"I didn't see you. You should have said hello."
"Well, you were busy. Totally focused as usual." He smiled. "You can look so fierce, Maura. Did you know that?"
She gave a laugh. "Maybe that's my problem."
"I scare men away."
"You haven't scared me."
How could I? She thought. Your heart isn't available for breaking. Deliberately she glanced at her watch and rose to her feet. "It's so late, and I've already taken up too much of your time."
"It's not as if I have any pressing business," he said as he walked with her toward the exit.
"You have a whole flock of souls to look after. And it is Christmas Eve."
"You'll notice I have nowhere else to go tonight, either."
She paused and turned to face him. They stood alone in the church, breathing in the scents of candle wax and incense, familiar smells that brought back a childhood of other Christmases, other Masses. The days when stepping into a church provoked none of the turmoil she was now feeling. "Good night, Daniel," she said, turning toward the door.
"Will it be another four months until I see you again?" he called out after her.
"I don't know."
"I've missed our talks, Maura."
Again she hesitated, her hand poised to push open the door. "I've missed them, too. Maybe that's why we shouldn't have them anymore."
"We haven't done anything to be ashamed of."
"Not yet," she said softly, her gaze not on him, but on the heavy carved door, which stood between her and escape.
"Maura, let's not leave it like this between us. There's no reason we can't maintain some sort of --- " He stopped.
Her cell phone was ringing.
She fished it out of her purse. At this hour, a ringing phone could not mean anything good. As she answered the call, she felt Daniel's eyes on her, felt her own jittery reaction to his gaze.
"Dr. Isles," she said, her voice unnaturally cool.
"Merry Christmas," said Detective Jane Rizzoli. "I'm kind of surprised you're not at home right now. I tried calling there first."
"I came to midnight Mass."
"Geez, it's already one A.M. Isn't it over yet?"
"Yes, Jane. It's over, and I'm about to leave," said Maura, in a tone of voice that cut off any more queries. "What have you got for me?" she asked. Because she already knew that this call was not a simple hello, but a summons.
"Address is two-ten Prescott Street, East Boston. A private residence. Frost and I got here about a half hour ago."
"We're looking at one vic, a young woman."
"You sound pretty sure of yourself."
"You'll see when you get here."
She disconnected and found Daniel still watching her. But the moment for taking risks, for saying things they both might come to regret, had passed. Death had intervened.
"You have to go to work?"
"I'm covering tonight." She slipped the phone back into her purse. "Since I don't have any family in town, I volunteered."
"On this of all nights?"
"The fact that it's Christmas doesn't make much difference to me."
She buttoned up her coat collar and walked out of the building, into the night. He followed her outside, and as she tramped through freshly fallen snow to her car, he stood watching her from the steps, his white vestments flapping in the wind. Glancing back, she saw him raise his hand in a good-bye wave.
He was still waving as she drove away.
The blue lights of three cruisers pulsed through a filigree of falling snow, announcing to all who approached: Something has happened here, something terrible. Maura felt her front bumper scrape against ice as she squeezed her Lexus up next to the snowbank, to make room for other vehicles to pass. At this hour, on Christmas Eve, the only vehicles likely to turn up on the narrow street would be, like hers, members of Death's entourage. She took a moment to steel herself against the exhausting hours to come, her tired eyes mesmerized by all the flashing lights. Her limbs felt numb; her circulation turned to sludge. Wake up, she thought. It's time to go to work.
She stepped out of the car and the sudden blast of cold air blew the sleep from her brain. She walked through freshly fallen powder that whispered away like white feathers before her boots. Although it was one-thirty, lights were burning in several of the modest homes along the street, and through a window decorated with holiday stencils of flying reindeer and candy canes, she saw the silhouette of a curious neighbor peering out from his warm house, at a night that was no longer silent or holy.
"Hey, Dr. Isles?" called out a patrolman, an older cop whom she vaguely recognized. Clearly he knew exactly who she was. They all knew who she was. "How'd you get so lucky tonight, huh?"
"I could ask the same of you, Officer."
"Guess we both drew the short straws." He gave a laugh. "Merry goddamn Christmas."
"Is Detective Rizzoli inside?"
"Yeah, she and Frost have been videotaping." He pointed toward a residence where all the lights were shining, a boxy little house crammed into a row of tired older homes. "By now, they're probably ready for you."
The sound of violent retching made her glance toward the street, where a blond woman stood doubled over, clutching at her long coat to avoid soiling the hem as she threw up in the snowbank.
The patrolman gave a snort. Muttered to Maura, "That one's gonna make a fine homicide detective. She came striding onto the scene right outta Cagney and Lacey. Ordered us all around. Yeah, a real tough one. Then she goes in the house, gets one look, and next thing you know, she's out here puking in the snow." He laughed.
"I haven't seen her before. She's from Homicide?"
"I hear she just transferred over from Narcotics and Vice. The commissioner's bright idea to bring in more girls." He shook his head. "She's not gonna last long. That's my prediction."
The woman detective wiped her mouth and moved unsteadily toward the porch steps, where she sank down.
"Hey. Detective!" called out the patrolman. "You might wanna move away from the crime scene? If you're gonna puke again, at least do it where they're not collecting evidence."
A younger cop, standing nearby, snickered.
The blond detective jerked back to her feet, and in bright strobe flashes the cruiser lights illuminated her mortified face. "I think I'll go sit in my car for a minute," she murmured.
"Yeah. You do that, ma'am."
Maura watched the detective retreat to the shelter of her vehicle. What horrors was she about to face inside that house?
"Doc," called out Detective Barry Frost. He had just emerged from the house and was standing on the porch, hunched in a Windbreaker. His blond hair stood up in tufts, as though he had just rolled out of bed. Though his face had always been sallow, the yellow glow cast by the porch light made him look sicklier than usual.
"I gather it's pretty bad in there," she said.
"Not the kind of thing you want to see on Christmas. Thought I'd better come out here and get some air."
She paused at the bottom of the steps, noting the jumble of footprints that had been left on the snow-dusted porch. "Okay to walk in this way?"
"Yeah. Those prints are all Boston PD."
"What about footwear evidence?"
"We didn't find much out here."
"What, did he fly in the window?"
"It looks like he swept up after himself. You can still see some of the whisk marks."
She frowned. "This perp pays attention to detail."
"Wait till you see what's inside."
She walked up the steps and pulled on shoe covers and gloves. Close up, Frost looked even worse, his face gaunt and drained of all color. But he took a breath and offered gamely: "I can walk you in."
"No, you take your time out here. Rizzoli can show me around."
He nodded, but he wasn't looking at her; he was staring off at the street with the fierce concentration of a man trying to hold on to his dinner. She left him to his battle and reached for the doorknob. Already she was braced for the worst. Only moments ago, she had arrived exhausted, trying to shake herself awake; now she could feel tension sizzling like static through her nerves.
She stepped into the house. Paused there, her pulse throbbing, and gazed at an utterly unalarming scene. The foyer had a scuffed oak floor. Through the doorway she could see into the living room, which was furnished with cheap mismatches: a sagging futon couch, a beanbag chair, a bookcase cobbled together from particle board planks and concrete blocks. Nothing so far that screamedcrime scene. The horror was yet to come; she knew it was waiting in this house, because she had seen its reflection in Barry Frost's eyes and in the ashen face of the woman detective.
She walked through the living room into the dining room, where she saw four chairs around a pine table. But it was not the furniture she focused on; it was the place settings that had been laid out on the table, as though for a family meal. Dinner for four.
One of the plates had a linen napkin draped over it, the fabric spattered with blood.
Gingerly she reached for the napkin. Lifting it up by the corner, she took one look at what lay underneath it, on the plate. Instantly she dropped the napkin and stumbled backward, gasping.
"I see you found the left hand," a voice said.
Maura spun around. "You scared the shit out of me."
"You want some seriously scary shit?" said Detective Jane Rizzoli. "Just follow me." She turned and led Maura up a hallway. Like Frost, Jane looked as if she had just rolled out of bed. Her slacks were wrinkled, her dark hair a wiry tangle. Unlike Frost, she moved fearlessly, her paper-covered shoes whishing across the floor. Of all the detectives who regularly showed up in the autopsy room, Jane was the one most likely to push right up to the table, to lean in for a closer look, and she betrayed no hesitation now as she moved along the hall. It was Maura who lagged behind, her gaze drawn downward to the drips of blood on the floor.
"Stay along this side," said Jane. "We've got some indistinct footprints here, going in both directions. Some kind of athletic shoe. They're pretty much dry now, but I don't want to smear anything."
"Who called in the report?"
"It was a nine-one-one call. Came in just after midnight."
Maura frowned. "The victim? Did she try to get help?"
"No voice on the line. Someone just dialed the emergency operator and left the phone off the hook. First cruiser got here ten minutes after the call. Patrolman found the door unlocked, came into the bedroom, and freaked out." Jane paused at a doorway and glanced over her shoulder at Maura. A warning look. "Here's where it gets hairy."
The severed hand was bad enough.
Jane moved aside to let Maura gaze into the bedroom. She did not see the victim; all she saw was the blood. The average human body contains perhaps five liters of it. The same volume of red paint, splashed around a small room, could splatter every surface. What her stunned eyes encountered, as she stared through the doorway, were just such extravagant splatters, like bright streamers flung by boisterous hands across white walls, across furniture and linen.
"Arterial," said Rizzoli.
Maura could only nod, silent, as her gaze followed the arcs of spray, reading the horror story written in red on these walls. As a fourth-year medical student serving a clerkship rotation in the ER, she had once watched a gunshot victim exsanguinate on the trauma table. With the blood pressure crashing, the surgery resident in desperation had performed an emergency laparotomy, hoping to control the internal bleeding. He'd sliced open the belly, releasing a fountain of arterial blood that gushed out of the torn aorta, splashing doctors' gowns and faces. In the final frantic seconds, as they'd suctioned and packed in sterile towels, all Maura could focus on was that blood. Its brilliant gloss, its meaty smell. She'd reached into the open abdomen to grab a retractor, and the warmth that had soaked through the sleeves of her gown had felt as soothing as a bath. That day, in the operating room, Maura had seen the alarming spurt that even a weak arterial pressure can generate.
Now, as she gazed at the walls of the bedroom, it was once again the blood that held her focus, that recorded the story of the victim's final seconds. When the first cut was made, the victim's heart was still beating, still generating a blood pressure. There, above the bed, was where the first machine-gun splatter hit, arcing high onto the wall. After a few vigorous pulses, the arcs began to decay. The body would try to compensate for the falling pressure, the arteries clamping down, the pulse quickening. But with every heartbeat, it would drain itself, accelerating its own demise. When at last the pressure faded and the heart stopped, there would be no more spurts, just a quiet trickle as the last blood seeped out. This was the death Maura saw recorded on these walls, and on this bed.
Then her gaze halted, riveted on something she had almost missed among all the splatters. Something that made the hairs on the back of her neck suddenly stand up. On one wall, drawn in blood, were three upside-down crosses. And beneath that, a series of cryptic symbols:
"What does that mean?" said Maura softly.
"We have no idea. We've been trying to figure it out."
Maura could not tear her gaze from the writing. She swallowed. "What the hell are we dealing with here?"
"Wait till you see what comes next." Jane circled around to the other side of the bed and pointed to the floor. "The victim's right here. Most of her, anyway."
Only as Maura rounded the bed did the woman come into view. She was lying unclothed and on her back. Exsanguination had drained the skin to the color of alabaster, and Maura suddenly remembered her visit to a room in the British Museum, where dozens of fragmented Roman statues were on display. The wear of centuries had chipped at the marble, cracking off heads, breaking off arms, until they were little more than anonymous torsos. That's what she saw now, staring down at the body. A broken Venus. With no head.
"It looks like he killed her there, on the bed," said Jane. "That would explain the splatters on that particular wall and all the blood on the mattress. Then he pulled her onto the floor, maybe because he needed a firm surface to finish cutting." Jane took a breath and turned away, as though she had suddenly reached her limit, and could not look at the corpse any longer.
"You said the first cruiser took ten minutes to respond to that nine-one-one call," said Maura.
"What was done here --- these amputations, the removal of the head --- that would have taken longer than ten minutes."
"We realize that. I don't think it was the victim who made that call."
The creak of a footstep made them both turn, and they saw Barry Frost standing in the doorway, looking less than eager to enter the room.
"Crime Scene Unit's here," he said.
"Tell them to come on in." Jane paused. "You don't look so hot."
"I think I'm doing pretty good. Considering."
"How's Kassovitz? She finished puking? We could use some help in here."
Frost shook his head. "She's still sitting in her car. I don't think her stomach's ready for this one. I'll go get CSU."
"Tell her to grow a spine, for God's sake!" Jane called after him as he walked out of the room. "I hate it when a woman lets me down. Gives us all a bad name."
Maura's gaze returned to the torso on the floor. "Have you found --- "
"The rest of her?" said Jane. "Yeah. You've already seen the left hand. The right arm's sitting in the bathtub. And now I guess it's time to show you the kitchen."
"What's in there?"
"More surprises." Jane started across the room, toward the hallway.
Turning to follow her, Maura caught a sudden glimpse of herself in the bedroom mirror. Her reflection stared back at her with tired eyes, the black hair limp from melted snow. But it was not the image of her own face that made her freeze. "Jane," she whispered. "Look at this."
"In the mirror. The symbols." Maura turned and stared at the writing on the wall. "Do you see it? It's a reverse image! Those aren't symbols, those are letters, meant to be read in the mirror."
Jane looked at the wall, then at the mirror. "That's a word?"
"Yes. It spells out Peccavi."
Jane shook her head. "Even in reverse, it doesn't mean a thing to me."
"It's Latin, Jane."
"I have sinned."
For a moment, the two women stared at each other. Then Jane gave a sudden laugh. "Well, that's a doozy of a confession for you. You think a few Hail Marys will erase this particular sin?"
"Maybe this word doesn't refer to the killer. Maybe it's all about the victim." She looked at Jane. "I have sinned."
"Punishment," said Jane. "Vengeance."
"It's a possible motive. She did something to anger the killer. She sinned against him. And this is his payback."
Jane took a deep breath. "Let's go into the kitchen." She led Maura down the hallway. At the kitchen doorway she stopped and looked at Maura, who had halted on the threshold, too stunned by what she saw to say a word.
On the tiled floor, a large red circle had been drawn in what looked like red chalk. Spaced around its circumference were five black puddles of wax that had melted and congealed. Candles, thought Maura. In the center of that circle, positioned so that the eyes were staring at them, was a woman's severed head.
A circle. Five black candles. It's a ritual offering.
"So now I'm supposed to go home to my little girl," said Jane. "In the morning, we'll all sit around the tree and open presents and pretend there's peace on earth. But I'll be thinking of . . . that thing . . . staring back at me. Merry frigging Christmas."
Maura swallowed. "Do we know who she is?"
"Well, I haven't dragged in her friends and neighbors to make a positive ID. Hey, you recognize that head on the kitchen floor? But based on her driver's license photo, I'd say this is Lori-Ann Tucker. Twenty-eight years old. Brown hair, brown eyes." Abruptly, Jane laughed. "Put all the body parts together, and that's about what you'd get."
"What do you know about her?"
"We found a paycheck stub in her purse. She works over at the Science Museum. We don't know in what capacity, but judging by the house, the furniture" --- Jane glanced toward the dining room --- "she's not making a ton of money."
They heard voices, and the creak of footsteps as CSU moved into the house. Jane at once straightened to greet them with some semblance of her usual aplomb. The unshrinking Detective Rizzoli that everyone knew.
"Hey guys," she said as Frost and two male criminalists gingerly stepped into the kitchen. "We got ourselves a fun one."
"Jesus," one of the criminalists murmured. "Where's the rest of the victim?"
"In several rooms. You might want to start with --- " She stopped, her body suddenly snapping straight.
The phone on the kitchen counter was ringing.
Frost was standing closest to it. "What do you think?" he asked, glancing at Rizzoli.
Gingerly Frost picked up the receiver in his gloved hand. "Hello? Hello?" After a moment he set it down again. "They hung up."
"What's Caller ID say?"
Frost pressed the call history button. "It's a Boston number."
Jane took out her cell phone and looked at the number on the display. "I'll try calling it back," she said, and dialed. Stood listening as it rang. "No answer."
"Let me see if that number's called here before," said Frost. He cycled back through the history, reviewing every call that had come in or gone out on the line. "Okay, here's that call to nine-one-one. Twelve-ten A.M."
"Our perp, announcing his handiwork."
"There's another call, just before that one. A Cambridge number." He looked up. "It was at twelve-oh-five."
"Did our perp make two calls from this phone?"
"If it was our perp."
Jane stared at the phone. "Let's think about this. He's standing here in the kitchen. He's just killed her and cut her up. Sliced off her hand, her arm. Sets her head right here, on the floor. Why call someone? Does he want to brag about it? And who's he gonna call?"
"Find out," said Maura.
Jane once again used her cell phone, this time to call the Cambridge number. "It's ringing. Okay, I'm getting an answering machine." She paused, and her gaze suddenly whipped to Maura. "You're not going to believe who this number belongs to."
Jane hung up and dialed the number again. Handed Maura the cell phone.
Maura heard it ring four times. Then the answering machine picked up and a recording played. The voice was instantly, chillingly familiar.
You've reached Dr. Joyce P. O'Donnell. I do want to hear from you, so please leave a message, and I'll return your call.
Maura disconnected and met Jane's equally stunned gaze. "Why would the killer call Joyce O'Donnell?"
"You're kidding," said Frost. "It's her number?"
"Who is she?" one of the criminalists asked.
Jane looked at him. "Joyce O'Donnell," she said, "is a vampire."
Excerpted from THE MEPHISTO CLUB © Copyright 2011 by Tess Gerritsen. Reprinted with permission by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.