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The Sinner


Andhra Pradesh


THE 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 Red- field 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

"How long?"

"An hour, maybe. As long as it takes."

"I tell you, there is nothing to see. No one is there

"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

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

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

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

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.


THEY 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 calm- ness that disturbs 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


"Detective Rizzoli's on line two for you. Can you take the

"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

  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

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

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

"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.


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."


THEY EMERGED from the chapel, stepping over the strand of police
tape which by now had fallen from the doorway and lay encased in
ice. The wind flapped their coats and whipped their faces as they
headed beneath the walkway, their eyes narrowed against rebel gusts
of snowflakes. As they stepped into a gloomy entranceway, Maura
registered barely a whisper of warmth against her numb face. She
smelled eggs and old paint and the mustiness of an ancient heating
system, radiating dust.

The clatter of chinaware drew them down a dim hallway, into a room
awash in fluorescent light, a disconcertingly modern detail. It
glared down, stark and unflattering, on the deeply lined faces of
the nuns seated around a battered rectory table. Thirteen of them
--- an unlucky number. Their attention was focused on squares of
bright floral cloth and silk ribbons and trays of dried lavender
and rose petals. Craft time, thought Maura, watching as arthritic
hands scooped up herbs and wound ribbon around sachets. One of the
nuns sat slumped in a wheelchair. She was tilted to the side, her
left hand curled into a claw on the armrest, her face sagging like
a partly melted mask. The cruel aftermath of a stroke. Yet she was
the first to notice the two intruders, and she gave a moan. The
other sisters looked up, turning toward Maura and Rizzoli.

Gazing into those wizened faces, Maura was startled by the frailty
she saw there. These were not the stern images of authority she
remembered from her girlhood, but the gazes of the bewildered,
looking to her for answers to this tragedy. She was uneasy with her
new status, the way a grown child is uneasy when he first realizes
that he and his parents have reversed roles.

Rizzoli asked, "Can someone tell me where Detective Frost

The question was answered by a harried-looking woman who had just
come out of the adjoining kitchen, carrying a tray of clean coffee
cups and saucers. She was dressed in a faded blue jumper stained
with grease, and a tiny diamond glinted through the bubbles of
dishwater on her left hand. Not a nun, thought Maura, but the
rectory employee, tending to this ever more infirm community.

"He's still talking to the Abbess," the woman said. She cocked her
head toward the doorway, and a strand of brown hair came loose,
curling over her frown-etched forehead. "Her office is down the

Rizzoli nodded. "I know the way."

They left the harsh light of that room and continued down the
hallway. Maura felt a draft here, a whisper of chill air, as though
a ghost had just slipped past her. She did not believe in the
afterlife, but when walking in the footsteps of those who had
recently died, she sometimes wondered if their passing did not
leave behind some imprint, some faint disturbance of energy that
could be sensed by those who followed.

Rizzoli knocked on the Abbess's door, and a tremulous voice said:
"Come in."

Stepping into the room, Maura smelled the aroma of coffee, as
delicious as perfume. She saw dark wood paneling and a simple
crucifix mounted on the wall above an oak desk. Behind that desk
sat a stooped nun whose eyes were magnified to enormous blue pools
by her glasses. She appeared every bit as old as her frail sisters
seated around the rectory table, and her glasses looked so heavy
they might pitch her face-forward onto her desk. But the eyes
gazing through those thick lenses were alert and bright with

Rizzoli's partner, Barry Frost, at once set down his coffee cup and
rose to his feet out of politeness. Frost was the equivalent of
everybody's kid brother, the one cop in the homicide unit who could
walk into an interrogation room and make a suspect believe Frost
was his best friend. He was also the one cop in the unit who never
seemed to mind working with the mercurial Rizzoli, who even now was
scowling at his cup of coffee, no doubt registering the fact that
while she had been shivering in the chapel, her partner was sitting
comfortably in this heated room.

"Reverend Mother," said Frost, "This is Dr. Isles, from the Medical
Examiner's office. Doc, this is Mother Mary Clement."

Maura reached for the Abbess's hand. It was gnarled, the skin like
dry paper over bones. As she shook it, Maura spotted a beige cuff
peeking out from under the black sleeve. So this was how the nuns
tolerated such a cold building. Beneath her woollen habit, the
Abbess was wearing long underwear.

Distorted blue eyes gazed at her through thick lenses. "The Medical
Examiner's office? Does that mean you're a physician?"

"Yes. A pathologist."

"You study causes of death?"

"That's right."

The Abbess paused, as though gathering the courage to ask the next
question. "Have you already been inside the chapel? Have you seen .
. ."

Maura nodded. She wanted to cut off the question she knew was
coming, but she was incapable of rudeness to a nun. Even at the age
of forty, she was still unnerved by the sight of a black

"Did she . . ." Mary Clement's voice slipped to a whisper. "Did
Sister Camille suffer greatly?"

"I'm afraid I have no answers yet. Not until I complete the . . .
examination." Autopsy was what she meant, but the word
seemed too cold, too clinical, for Mary Clement's sheltered ears.
Nor did she want to reveal the terrible truth: That in fact, she
had a very good idea of what had happened to Camille. Someone had
confronted the young woman in the chapel. Someone had pursued her
as she fled in terror up the aisle, wrenching off her white
novice's veil. As his blows avulsed her scalp, her blood had
splashed the pews, yet she had staggered onward, until at last she
stumbled to her knees, conquered at his feet. Even then her
attacker did not stop. Even then, he had kept swinging, crushing
her skull like an egg.

Avoiding Mary Clement's eyes, Maura briefly lifted her gaze to the
wooden cross mounted on the wall behind the desk, but that imposing
symbol was no more comfortable for her to confront.

Rizzoli cut in, "We haven't seen their bedrooms yet." As usual, she
was all business, focusing only on what needed to be done

Mary Clement blinked back tears. "Yes. I was about to take
Detective Frost upstairs to their chambers."

Rizzoli nodded. "We're ready when you are."

The Abbess led the way up a stairway illuminated only by the glow
of daylight through a stained glass window. On bright days, the sun
would have painted the walls with a rich palette of colors, but on
this wintry morning, the walls were murky with shades of

"The upstairs rooms are mostly empty now. Over the years, we've had
to move the sisters downstairs, one by one," said Mary Clement,
climbing slowly, grasping the handrail as though hauling herself
up, step by step. Maura half expected her to tumble backwards, and
she stayed right behind her, tensing every time the Abbess paused,
wobbling. "Sister Jacinta's knee is bothering her these days, so
she'll take a room downstairs, too. And now Sister Helen has
trouble catching her breath. There are so few of us left. . .

"It's quite a large building to maintain," said Maura.

"And old." The Abbess paused to catch her breath. She added, with a
sad laugh, "Old like us. And so expensive to keep up. We thought we
might have to sell, but God found a way for us to hold onto


"A donor came forward last year. Now we've started renovations. The
slates on the roof are new, and we now have insulation in the
attic. We plan to replace the furnace, next." She glanced back at
Maura. "Believe it or not, this building feels quite cozy, compared
to a year ago."

The Abbess took a deep breath and resumed climbing the stairs, her
rosary beads clattering. "There used to be forty-five of us here.
When I first came to Graystones, we filled all these rooms. Both
wings. But now we're a maturing community."

"When did you come, Reverend Mother?" asked Maura.

"I entered as a postulant when I was eighteen years old. I had a
young gentleman who wanted to marry me. I'm afraid his pride was
quite wounded when I turned him down for God." She paused on the
step and looked back. For the first time, Maura noticed the bulge
of a hearing aid beneath her wimple. "You probably can't imagine
that, can you, Dr. Isles? That I was ever that young?"

No, Maura couldn't. She couldn't imagine Mary Clement as anything
but the wobbly relic she was now. Certainly never a desirable
woman, pursued by men.

They reached the top of the stairs, and a long hallway stretched
before them. It was warmer up here, almost pleasant, the heat
trapped by low dark ceilings. The exposed beams looked at least a
century old. The Abbess moved to the second door and hesitated, her
hand on the knob. At last she turned it, and the door swung open,
gray light from within spilling onto her face. "This is Sister
Ursula's room," she said softly.

The room was scarcely large enough to fit all of them at once.
Frost and Rizzoli stepped in, but Maura remained by the door, her
gaze drifting past shelves lined with books, past flowerpots
containing thriving African violets. With its mullioned window and
low-beamed ceiling, the room looked medieval. A scholar's tidy
garret, furnished with a simple bed and dresser, a desk and

"Her bed's been made," said Rizzoli, looking down at the neatly
tucked sheets.

"That's the way we found it this morning," said Mary Clement.

"Didn't she go to sleep last night?"

"It's more likely she rose early. She usually does."

"How early?"

"She's often up hours before Lauds."

"Lauds?" asked Frost.

"Our morning prayers, at seven. This past summer, she was always
out early, in the garden. She loves to work in the garden."

"And in the winter?" asked Rizzoli. "What does she do so early in
the morning?"

"Whatever the season, there's always work to be done, for those of
us who can still manage it. But so many of the sisters are frail
now. This year, we had to hire Mrs. Otis to help us prepare meals.
Even with her help, we can scarcely keep up with the chores."

Rizzoli opened the closet door. Inside hung an austere collection
of blacks and browns. Not a hint of color nor embellishment. It was
the wardrobe of a woman for whom the Lord's work was allimportant,
for whom the design of clothing was only in His service.

"These are the only clothes she has? What I see in this closet?"
asked Rizzoli.

"We take a vow of poverty when we join the order."

"Does that mean you give up everything you own?"

Mary Clement responded with the patient smile one gives to a child
who has just asked an absurd question. "It's not such a hardship,
Detective. We keep our books, a few personal mementoes. As you can
see, Sister Ursula enjoys her African violets. But yes, we leave
almost everything behind when we come here. This is a contemplative
order, and we don't welcome the distractions of the outside

"Excuse me, Reverend Mother," said Frost. "I'm not Catholic, so I
don't understand what that word means. What's a contemplative

His question had been quietly respectful, and Mary Clement favored
him with a warmer smile than she had given Rizzoli. "A
contemplative leads a reflective life. A life of prayer and private
devotion and meditation. That's why we retreat behind walls. Why we
turn away visitors. Seclusion is a comfort to us."

"What if someone breaks the rules?" asked Rizzoli. "Do you kick her

Maura saw Frost wince at his partner's bluntly worded

"Our rules are voluntary," said Mary Clement. "We abide by them
because we wish to."

"But every so often, there's got to be some nun who wakes up one
morning and says, 'I feel like going to the beach.' "

"It doesn't happen."

"It must happen. They're human beings."

"It doesn't happen."

"No one breaks the rules? No one jumps the wall?"

"We have no need to leave the abbey. Mrs. Otis buys our groceries.
Father Brophy attends to our spiritual needs."

"What about letters? Phone calls? Even in high security prisons,
you get to make a phone call every so often." Frost was shaking his
head, his expression pained.

"We have a telephone here, for emergencies," said Mary

"And anyone can use it?"

"Why would they wish to?"

"How about mail? Can you get letters?"

"Some of us choose not to accept any mail."

"And if you want to send a letter?"

"To whom?"

"Does it matter?"

Mary Clement's face had frozen into a tight, lord-give-mepatience
smile. "I can only repeat myself, Detective. We are not prisoners.
We choose to live this way. Those who don't agree with these rules
may choose to leave."

"And what would they do, in the outside world?"

"You seem to think we have no knowledge of that world. But some of
the sisters have served in schools or in hospitals."

"I thought being cloistered meant you couldn't leave the

"Sometimes, God calls us to tasks outside the walls. A few years
ago, Sister Ursula felt His call to serve abroad, and she was
granted exclaustration --- permission to live outside while keeping
her vows."

"But she came back."

"Last year."

"She didn't like it out there, in the world?"

"Her mission in India wasn't an easy one. And there was violence
--- a terrorist attack on her village. That's when she returned to
us. Here, she could feel safe again."

"She didn't have family to go home to?"

"Her closest relative was a brother, who died two years ago.

We're her family now, and Graystones is her home. When you're tired
of the world and in need of comfort, Detective," the Abbess asked
gently, "don't you go home?"

The answer seemed to unsettle Rizzoli. Her gaze shifted to the
wall, where the crucifix hung. Just as quickly, it caromed

"Reverend Mother?"

The woman in the grease-stained blue jumper was standing in the
hall, looking in at them with flat, incurious eyes. A few more
strands of brown hair had come loose from her ponytail and hung
limp about her bony face. "Father Brophy says he's on his way over
to deal with the reporters. But there are so many of them calling
now that Sister Isabel's just taken the phone off the hook. She
doesn't know what to tell them."

"I'll be right there, Mrs. Otis." The Abbess turned to

"As you can see, we're overwhelmed. Please take as much time as you
need here. I'll be downstairs."

"Before you go," said Rizzoli, "which room is Sister

"It's the fourth door."

"And it's not locked?"

"There are no locks on these doors," said Mary Clement.

"There never have been."

* *

The smell of bleach and Murphy's Oil Soap was the first thing Maura
registered as she stepped into Sister Camille's room. Like Sister
Ursula's, this room had a mullioned window facing the courtyard and
the same low, wood-beamed ceiling. But while Ursula's room felt
lived-in, Camille's room had been so thoroughly scrubbed and
sanitized it felt sterilized. The whitewashed walls were bare
except for a wooden crucifix hanging opposite the bed. It would
have been the first object Camille's gaze would fix upon when she
awakened each morning, a symbol of her focused existence. This was
a chamber for a penitent.

Maura gazed down at the floor and saw where areas of fierce
scrubbing had worn down the finish, leaving patches of lighter
wood. She pictured fragile young Camille down on her knees,
clutching steel wool, trying to sand away . . . what? A century's
worth of stains? All traces of the women who had lived here before

"Geez," said Rizzoli. "If cleanliness is next to Godliness, this
woman was a saint."

Maura crossed to the desk by the window, where a book lay open.
Saint Brigid of Ireland: A Biography. She imagined Camille
reading at this pristine desk, the window light playing on her
delicate features. She wondered if, on warm days, Camille ever
removed her novice's white veil and sat bareheaded, letting the
breeze through the window blow across her cropped blond hair.

"There's blood here," said Frost.

Maura turned and saw that he was standing by the bed, staring down
at the rumpled sheets.

Rizzoli peeled back the covers, revealing bright red stains on the
bottom sheet.

"Menstrual blood," said Maura, and saw Frost flush and turn away.
Even married men were squeamish when it came to intimate details of
women's bodily functions.

The clang of the bell drew Maura's gaze back to the window. She
watched as a nun emerged from the building to open the gate. Four
visitors wearing yellow slickers entered the courtyard.

"CSU's arrived," said Maura.

"I'll go down and meet them," said Frost, and he left the

Sleet was still falling, ticking against the glass, and a layer of
rime distorted her view of the courtyard below. Maura caught a
watery view of Frost stepping out to greet the crime-scene techs.
Fresh invaders, violating the sanctity of the abbey. And beyond the
wall, others were waiting to invade as well. She saw a TV news van
creep past the gate, cameras no doubt rolling. How did they find
their way here so quickly? Was the scent of death so powerful? She
turned to look at Rizzoli. "You're Catholic, Jane. Aren't

Rizzoli snorted as she picked through Camille's closet. "Me?
Catechism dropout."

"When did you stop believing?"

"About the same time I stopped believing in Santa Claus. Never did
make it to my confirmation, which to this day still pisses off my
dad. Jesus, what a boring closet. Let's see, shall I wear the
black or the brown habit today?
Why would any girl in her right
mind want to be a nun?"

"Not all nuns wear habits. Not since Vatican II."

"Yeah, but that chastity thing, that hasn't changed. Imagine no sex
for the rest of your life."

"I don't know," said Maura. "It might be a relief to stop thinking
about men."

"I'm not sure that's possible." She shut the closet door and slowly
scanned the room, looking for . . . what? Maura wondered.

The key to Camille's personality? The explanation for why her life
had ended so young, so brutally? But there were no clues here that
Maura could see. This was a room swept clean of all traces of its
occupant. That, perhaps, was the most telling clue of all to
Camille's personality. A young woman scrubbing, always scrubbing
away at dirt. At sin.

Rizzoli crossed to the bed and dropped down to her hands and knees
to look underneath. "Geez, it's so clean under here you can eat off
the goddamn floor."

Wind shook the window and sleet clattered against the glass. Maura
turned and watched Frost and the CSTs cross toward the chapel. One
of the techs suddenly slid across the stones, arms flung out like a
skater as he struggled to stay upright. We're all struggling to
stay upright, Maura thought. Resisting the pull of temptation, just
as we fight the pull of gravity. And when we fi- nally fall, it's
always such a surprise.

The team stepped into the chapel, and she imagined them standing in
a silent circle, staring down at Sister Ursula's blood, their
breaths marked by puffs of steam.

Behind her there was a thud.

She turned and was alarmed to see Rizzoli sitting on the floor next
to the toppled chair. She had her head hanging between her

"Jane." Maura knelt beside her. "Jane?"

Rizzoli waved her away. "I'm okay. I'm okay. . . ."

"What happened?"

"I just . . . I think I got up too fast. I'm just a little dizzy. .
. ." Rizzoli tried to straighten, then quickly dropped her head

"You should lie down."

"I don't need to lie down. Just give me a minute to clear my

Maura remembered that Rizzoli had not looked well in the chapel,
her face too pale, her lips dusky. At the time she'd assumed it was
because the detective was chilled. Now they were in a warm room,
and Rizzoli looked just as drained.

"Did you eat breakfast this morning?" Maura asked.

"Uh . . ."

"Don't you remember?"

"Yeah, I guess I ate. Sort of."

"What does that mean?"

"A piece of toast, okay?" Rizzoli shook off Maura's hand, an
impatient rejection of any help. It was that fierce pride that
sometimes made her so difficult to work with. "I think I'm coming
down with the flu."

"You're sure that's all it is?"

Rizzoli shoved her hair off her face and slowly sat up

"Yeah. And I shouldn't have had all that coffee this

"How much?"

"Three --- maybe four cups."

"Isn't that overdoing it?"

"I needed the caffeine. But now it's eating a hole in my

I feel like puking."

"I'll walk you to the bathroom."

"No." Rizzoli waved her away. "I can make it, okay?" Slowly she
rose to her feet and just stood for a moment, as though not quite
confident of her footing. Then she squared her shoulders, and with
a hint of the old Rizzoli swagger, walked out of the room.

The clang of the gate bell drew Maura's gaze back to the window.
She watched as the elderly nun once again emerged from the building
and shuffled across the cobblestones to answer the call. This new
visitor did not need to plead his case; the nun at once opened the
gate. A man dressed in a long black coat stepped into the courtyard
and laid his hand on the nun's shoulder. It was a gesture of
comfort and familiarity. Together they walked toward the building,
the man moving slowly to match her arthritic gait, his head bent
toward her as though he did not want to miss hearing a single word
she said.

Halfway across the courtyard, he suddenly stopped and looked up, as
though he sensed that Maura was watching him.

For an instant, their gazes met through the window. She saw a lean
and striking face, a head of black hair, ruffled by the wind. And
she caught a glimpse of white, tucked beneath the raised collar of
his black coat.

A priest.

When Mrs. Otis had announced that Father Brophy was on his way to
the abbey, Maura had imagined him to be an elderly, gray-haired
man. But the man gazing up at her now was young --- no older than

He and the nun continued toward the building, and Maura lost sight
of them. The courtyard was once again deserted, but the trampled
snow bore a record of all who had walked across it that morning.
The morgue transport team would soon arrive with their stretcher
and add yet more footprints to the snow.

She took a deep breath, dreading the return to the cold chapel, to
the grim task that still lay before her. She left the room and went
down to await her team.

Excerpted from THE SINNER © Copyright 2003 by Tess
Gerritsen. Reprinted with permission by Ballantine Books. All
rights reserved.

The Sinner
by by Tess Gerritsen

  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345458915
  • ISBN-13: 9780345458919