Unholy City, page 1
ALSO AVAILABLE BY CARRIE SMITH:
A Claire Codella Mystery
This is a work of fiction. All of the names, characters, organizations, places, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real or actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 by Carrie Smith.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crooked Lane Books, an imprint of The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC.
Crooked Lane Books and its logo are trademarks of The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC.
Library of Congress Catalog-in-Publication data available upon request.
ISBN (hardcover): 978-1-68331-329-8
ISBN (ePub): 978-1-68331-330-4
ISBN (ePDF): 978-1-68331-332-8
Cover design by Andy Ruggirello
Crooked Lane Books
34 West 27th St., 10th Floor
New York, NY 10001
First Edition: November 2017
To Cammie and Mattie:
May you always dream
Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.
Two weeks later
Anna kicked off her shoes in the spacious foyer of the brownstone that served as St. Paul’s rectory. She climbed the stairs and went straight to Christopher’s room. He was sleeping soundly, his small body curled on the mattress. She stroked his soft hair and tiptoed out of the room. In the doorway of the master bedroom, she paused while her vision adjusted to the darkness. Todd lay on his side facing his edge of the mattress. He didn’t move as she approached the bed. Was he asleep, or simply pretending to be?
She slipped off her slacks, then unbuttoned her blouse and hung it on the doorknob of the closet. In the bathroom, she brushed her teeth and washed her face. Then she crawled into bed. The cool sheets made her shiver. Todd didn’t move. She imagined Philip lying beside her instead of Todd. Philip would sense her presence and awaken as soon as she lay next to him. He would stroke her hair and warm her neck with his breath. She would touch his reddish-brown beard, and it would be soft, unlike the scratchy beards of most men. She could almost feel it against her cheek right now as she raised the comforter to her chin and swallowed past the tightness in her throat.
Her mind went to Matthew 5:28: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The same, she supposed, was true of women with “lustful intent.” But a thought—a simple fantasy—was hardly intent. Intent was the determination to turn a thought into action. Some thoughts—her thoughts—were not connected to a plan. They were, in fact, the safeguard against a plan. A fantasy could dampen curiosity before it grew into need. She felt no need. Her thoughts were innocuous and would pass in due course.
She recalled how her eyes had collided with Philip’s across the Blue Lounge at the vestry meeting tonight. Each time their eyes had met, he seemed to be saying, Stay with me, Anna. Trust me. I told you this would be tough. Below his reassurance, she’d sensed a deeper message in his eyes as well. A silent confession. I feel the same thing you do. Was that true? she wondered now. Did he also feel a little curious? Would he get into his bed tonight and fall soundly to sleep, or would he lie awake and think about her the same way she was thinking about him? Would his body feel half as restless as hers did?
She rolled onto her side, brought her knees up to her chest, and hugged the pillow against her breasts. It was only Wednesday. She wouldn’t see him again until Sunday morning—Palm Sunday—when she ascended into the pulpit as she did every week and stared out at him and all the other St. Paul’s congregants. But she didn’t want to just stare down at him in her vestments. She wanted to be alone with him.
On the high-definition screen in her mind, Anna pictured herself in her office. She imagined Philip stepping through the door and quietly shutting it behind him. She watched him come around her desk and pull her gently to her feet. They stared into each other’s eyes, only inches separating them. He was taller than she—her eyes came to the level of his shoulders—and she saw his chest rise and fall as he breathed evenly. They began to breathe as one. Finally she couldn’t stand the space between them anymore, and she rested her head on his chest. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her against his body. I’m willing to pay the price for this, she heard him whisper. And then he lifted her chin and kissed her mouth, and both of their bodies were alive with the same unholy desire.
Anna couldn’t lie still in the bed any longer. She sat up, threw back the comforter, and swung her legs out. It was just a fantasy, she thought. Why not follow it to its conclusion? She tiptoed into the bathroom, shut the door, and locked it. Standing in the dim light, her fingers found the wetness between her legs. She closed her eyes, and then she was kissing Philip again, moving with him in a slow dance of desire until she had to hold her breath to silence the first throb of an orgasm that seemed to splinter every bone in her body.
She exhaled, bending like the branch of a shattered tree. Her front teeth had clenched down hard on her lower lip, but she didn’t mind the pain. Urgency drained from her body and was replaced by calm. She stared at her dim reflection in t
Then she walked over to the toilet and gave it a flush—just in case Todd was awake. As she washed her hands and dried them, she found herself mouthing the prayer she whispered during the ritual handwashing on the altar at St. Paul’s before Holy Communion every Sunday: Lord, wash away my iniquity; cleanse me from my sin. But she hadn’t sinned. She knew the boundaries and standards she must uphold. She felt no lustful intent. She took one last deep breath and returned to bed.
Rose Bartruff sighed when she left the parish house and hit the warm spring air. Why had she let Philip Graves talk her into joining the vestry? This contentious little group of church leaders was worse than a Manhattan co-op board. Tonight’s business could have been dispensed with in an hour if the committee members didn’t like to hear themselves talk so much. She was almost glad when her babysitter called at ten o’clock to say that her daughter had flushed her asthma inhaler down the toilet. She would have been happy for any excuse to escape that meeting for a while.
Rose had only joined St. Paul’s in the hopes of getting to know some nice men. Upper West Side Episcopalians, she’d assumed, wouldn’t be all that pious. She had envisioned a spiritual but not very religious group of liberal Democrats who pursued social justice by day and enjoyed their alcohol at night. That had sounded more her speed than Match.com. But so far, she had met no available men, and she was spending way too much time with bombastic vestry members who argued endlessly over stewardship, cemetery improvements, and whether to sell the church’s air rights.
She walked down the parish house steps to head home but paused on the stone path that led to the sidewalk beyond the gate. St. Paul’s knew how to exploit individual talents for the collective good. While Rose hadn’t met the perfect widower in his forties, she had been appointed guardian of the church garden, and it, along with the soothing voices of the choir each Sunday, kept her coming back. She loved this modest plot of land more than any of the outdoor spaces she had designed for wealthy clients with private rooftops high above Manhattan. The little herb garden on the south side of the church could be seen and enjoyed by everyone in the neighborhood, and she had big plans for it.
She decided to check on the bed of Moroccan mint she’d planted last month. She turned right and followed a path that ran along the limestone wall of the parish house. The Romanesque architecture reminded Rose of a medieval castle, and whenever she walked here alone, she sensed the confluence of past and present. The church archives said that two hundred years ago, this Manhattan Valley neighborhood had been a vast stretch of farmland known as Bloomingdale. Wealthy city dwellers from the southern tip of Manhattan had spent their summers on estates overlooking the Hudson River, and those estate owners had built and worshipped at St. Paul’s. Who, she wondered now, had tended her garden back then?
Rose reached the southwest corner of the church and paused to breathe in the fragrant night air. Her Moroccan mint was thriving. She could smell it from here. She turned right again and followed the west wall of the building. The lights over the parish house entrance did not reach around this bend, but she knew her way and advanced confidently until her left foot caught under something on the path and her upper body catapulted forward. She instinctively raised her arms in front of her face and braced for bone-breaking impact, but she did not slam down on stone. Instead, her elbows thudded into something solid yet soft. A bag of dirt left by one of the volunteer gardeners was her first thought.
She groped around. No, it wasn’t a plastic or burlap bag of topsoil. Her fingers recognized the feel of smooth fabric. As she widened her sphere of tactile exploration, the fabric gave way to the unmistakable texture of skin, and she realized that her hand had followed a sleeve and was now touching another human hand.
Adrenaline surged through her chest, and her racing heart throbbed against her sternum. She scrambled to her feet and stepped back. Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness enough that she could now recognize the dim outline of someone on the ground. Her mind flashed to her husband, Mark, who had collapsed on the kitchen floor of their apartment two years ago, and her daughter, Lily, crying, “Mommy, what’s wrong with Daddy?” How would she ever forget that scene? She turned away from that memory and this body and ran as fast as she could back to the parish house.
Inside, she bypassed the vacant Community Room and rushed to the coatrack across from the Blue Lounge where Susan Bentley, the only doctor on the vestry, was speaking with Roger Sturgis. “Come with me,” she said, out of breath. “Hurry!”
“What’s wrong, Rose?” asked Susan.
Rose couldn’t find the words to explain. “Just come with me,” she said.
Susan and Roger followed her outside, and Rose led them to the side of the church. “There, on the path.” She pointed. “It’s a—a body.”
Susan kneeled on the hard stones. “I need light.”
Roger flicked on his iPhone flashlight and aimed it at the figure in front of them. A man—Rose assumed it was a man from the size of his hands, the cut of his suit, and the style of his black loafers—lay with his back to them.
Susan said, “Jesus Christ. Roger, call an ambulance. Call the police. Now.”
Roger managed to hold his small flashlight beam steadily on the body while he dialed 9-1-1 and told the operator to send an ambulance and the police to St. Paul’s. As he calmly recited the church address, Rose watched Susan lift the man’s limp right arm. “There’s no pulse,” she said. Then she reached inside his sleeve. “But his skin is still warm to the touch. Tell them he’s in cardiac arrest, Roger. They need to get here fast.”
“Who is it?” asked Rose. “Can you see who it is?”
Susan didn’t answer.
“Is he alive?”
Susan still didn’t answer, and Rose realized that she needed to be quiet and let the doctor work. Thank God Susan was a doctor, she thought, and thank God she hadn’t already gone home. With one hand gripping the man’s shoulder and the other curled around his thigh, Susan pulled hard on the inert body to flip him onto his back. Roger bent down and aimed his small beam of light onto the face of Philip Graves, and all three of them gasped.
One side of Philip’s head was bloody, Rose saw. His face was pale, and his lips were bluish. Rose gave voice to the words she imagined they were all thinking. “Oh, my God!”
Rose watched as Susan turned to Roger. She saw Roger’s stunned expression. Then Susan looked at her. “Rose, listen to me,” she said sternly. “We need the defibrillator. It’s in the Community Room.”
“By the passage to the kitchen,” added Roger.
“Go get it now, Rose. Hurry,” Susan ordered as she turned from Rose’s gaze and focused on Philip Graves’s still body—her patient.
When Rose returned, Roger saw that Peter Linton and Vivian Wakefield had followed her out. He ignored them as he took the defibrillator from Rose and set it on the ground next to Susan.
“What’s happened to him?” Peter Linton demanded in his tight lawyerly tone that always grated on Roger.
Roger stared at the bald, thick-waisted man but offered no answer.
“Is that blood on his head? Is he okay, Roger?” Vivian Wakefield’s smooth brown skin blended with the night, but he could tell from her voice that the junior churchwarden wore an expression of alarm. He watched as she pressed her palms together in front of her face in a pose of prayer. Why, he wondered with irritation, did people default to magical thinking when there were real things to be done?
He turned to Susan. “Tell me what to do.”
“Open the lid,” she instructed as she performed CPR. “A voice will guide you.”
Roger lifted the lid on the bright-yellow defibrillation unit, but no voice broke the silence.
Susan looked over. “Something’s wrong. Do you see the green bars on the battery power?”
“No. There’s just one bar, and it’s red.” Roger slammed
Peter Linton edged closer. “Are you serious? That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
Roger glared over his shoulder. “Shut the fuck up, Peter!” How many times had he wanted to say that to Linton earlier tonight?
Vivian Wakefield’s audible intake of breath told him he had offended her. He turned back to Susan. “You want me to take over for a while?”
“No, I’m fine. I can do this.”
And then, for at least three more agonizingly long minutes, no one spoke. They waited and watched as Susan continued to breathe into the mouth and pump the chest. Roger’s own ribcage hurt just watching her strong hands press against the torso. It was obvious to him—and surely must be to her too, he thought—that her efforts were futile.
Finally a siren mercifully severed the tense silence. Roger sighed with relief. “I’ll go show them the way.”
When he reached the front gate, the paramedics were already hauling equipment out of their truck, and an NYPD squad car was rolling up beside it. “What the fuck took you so long?”
Neither EMT acknowledged his question. They probably ignored the same question everywhere they went, he thought. Anybody who read the local news knew EMT response times in this city didn’t set any speed records. Roger turned to the cops getting out of their car. He’d been a platoon leader during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and he knew which one was the sergeant. “We’ll need some light back there,” he said.
The sergeant looked over at the younger patrolman, who went to the squad car trunk. Roger led the EMTs and the sergeant through the dark garden until the patrolman’s powerful flashlight beam caught up with them. When they reached the back of the parish house, the EMTs knelt beside the body across from Susan Bentley. “His airways are clear. Bag him,” said Susan, and she continued CPR while one EMT unzipped a defibrillator and took scissors out of a pouch and the other sealed the ventilation mask over Philip Graves’s nose and mouth.