Sandra Ruttan, Spinetingler Magazine
"Mofina has woven an intriguing tale about how the past always catches up to you, sooner or later . . . does a wonderful job of creating suspense."
A Perfect Grave
A Perfect Grave is the third installment in Rick Mofina’s internationally acclaimed series featuring rookie crime reporter Jason Wade of The Seattle Mirror. The gritty Wade series debuted with The Dying Hour, which the International Thriller Writers named a finalist for a 2006 Thriller Award. It was followed by Every Fear.
In A Perfect Grave, Wade, a troubled loner from the wrong side of the tracks, pursues the story of a murdered Seattle nun. The case leads him to a hermit nun who founded a mysterious religious order; and ultimately to the dark secret that has tormented his ex-cop father for decades. It culminates in a life and death struggle against the clock. With time running out, Jason and his father battle the odds to confront a terrible truth.
For Sister Anne, death was always near.
But tonight, it felt closer and she didn't know why.
Tonight was like any other in the Compassionate Heart Of Mercy Shelter at the fringe of Seattle's Pioneer Square District, where she was offering tomato soup to those who had lost hope. Their pasts haunted their faces. The pain of their lives stained their bodies with lesions, needle tracks, and prison tattoos.
Moving along the rows of plastic-covered bingo tables, Sister Anne saw how her 'guests' occasionally looked up from their meals to the finger paintings on the basement walls, pictures taped there by the children of the shelter's daycare program. Portraits of happy families holding hands under sunny skies and rainbows.
No dark clouds. No frowns. No tears.
Glimpses of heaven.
She was moved by the juxtaposition of the dreamy images and the cold realities of these unfortunate souls, handcuffed to mistakes, tragedies and addictions, searching the artwork of inner-city children for answers.
Silent cries for help.
Offering help was Sister Anne's job. Her mission was to rescue broken people. To give them hot food, hope and the courage to mend themselves.
"Would you like more soup, Willie?"
A gravelly whisper emerged from the crumb-specked beard of the former aircraft mechanic, who'd lost his job, his house and finally, his family, to gambling.
"I don't want to trouble no body, Sister."
"It's no trouble, dear. Sister Violet tells me you're doing well in recovery."
"Haven't missed a session in two months."
"Keep the faith, dear heart. You're my hero."
Sister Anne gripped his shoulder and pulled him close, indifferent to the smells of alcohol, cigarettes, body odor and despair that were common here. The nuns of the order met the challenge of their mission, but Sister Anne embraced it.
For whether she was handing out wrapped sandwiches to homeless men, or comforting runaway teens and abused women, or whether she was entering prisons to counsel inmates, Sister Anne was a tireless warrior for charity.
She never lectured or preached; she served with humility, for she, too, had made mistakes. Yet none of the other sisters knew her story, or how she came to have her. "God moment," which had inspired her devotion.
Sister Anne was private about her previous life.
In fact, upon first meeting her, few people figured Anne Braxton to be a nun. An easy thing to do since the Vatican's push in the 1960s to modernize the church. For the sisters of this small order, it meant they did not live a cloistered life behind the stone walls of a convent or maintain the tradition of wearing habits, wimples and veils.
Tonight, Sister Anne wore faded jeans and a Seattle Seahawks sweatshirt, dotted with gravy and smelling of tuna casserole. With her scrubbed face, cropped hair feathered with gray, it was easy to peg her as a forty-something volunteer from a middle-class suburb. The small silver cross hanging from the black cord around her neck and her simple silver ring, betrayed none of the inner fire which had fused her to her community.
For she had shouldered the anguish of those she'd worked so hard to help. Next to Willie was Beatrice, who'd been a school teacher in Ravenna when she accidentally backed her minivan over a six-year-old girl on a school trip. The girl died. Beatrice fell into a depression and was slipping away until the night police were called to the Aurora Avenue Bridge and talked her out of jumping into Lake Union. Since then, Sister Anne had been helping Beatrice forgive herself.
Sister Anne did the same with Cooper, a haunted soldier, whose tank took a direct hit in the rear. Everyone in the crew died. 'Cooked alive'.
Only Cooper got out.
Sister Anne prayed every day for Cooper, Beatrice and Willie, refusing to let them believe they were worthless, unloved and at fault for what had happened. No one is to blame, she would tell them, and the new people who arrived with similar tragedies every day at the shelter. Each one of them mattered and she wanted them to know that, especially at the end of the evening before they vanished into the night.
"Thank you for coming. God bless you and good luck." She hugged each of them as they departed.
Later, while collecting plates, her thoughts turned inward as she re-examined her past, her guilt clawing at her until she pushed it away.
But it kept returning.
Tonight, Sister Anne was the last to leave, staying behind to study the next day's menu. Again, the odd feeling drew her back through the years to the time when everything changed. It had been happening more and more over the past weeks, as if something was closing in on her.
Was God telling her something?
As Sister Annee locked up, she stopped at the door and considered the line of prayer from St. Francis posted there:
"It is in dying that we are born into eternal life."
She thought about it for a moment, then headed for the street. On the bus, she looked at the banner ads for unwanted pregnancies, condoms, distress centers, police tip lines urging people to report suspicious behavior. We live in a world of pain and we all have our crosses to bear.
She closed her eyes.
Her bus ascended the hills between First Hill and Yesler Terrace, toward a small enclave of clean, modest buildings straddling the eastern edges of the two neighborhoods. Mercifully, it was a short ride.
Echoes of distant sirens and a far off car alarm greeted her at her stop, reminding her of a recent rash of car prowlings and a few break-ins at the fringes of her neighborhood.
Walking along the rain-slicked sidewalk, she saw the high-rise luxury condos of First Hill, towering over the public housing properties of Yesler Terrace. Beyond them, across I-5, Seattle's glittering skyline rose into the night. To the north she saw the Space Needle, to the south, the stadiums where the Mariners and her beloved Seahawks played.
Sister Anne's home was a few short blocks away in the cluster of well-kept townhouses. A generous parishioner had donated one to the archdiocese. Hers was the middle building. She reached for the door and stopped cold.
It was slightly ajar.
Her concern melted to annoyance. It had a temperamental mechanism. Upon entering, she'd detected the aroma of baked onions, pepperoni, peppers and cheese and sighed. Her new neighbors, the young nuns from Canada, were partial to pizza every now and then but had yet to master the trick of completely locking the front door Well, the silver lining here was that it spared her from fiddling with her front-door keys. Inside, the building was quiet as Sister Anne climbed the stairs to her second-floor apartment where she lived alone.
Evening prayer, a cup of tea, and a bit of rest for her weary bones. She flicked on the lights of her small apartment and felt a ping of unease. Something wasn't right. She couldn't put her finger on it but something felt wrong.
Oh, it's nothing.
She was being silly because she was exhausted. But hanging up her jacket, she still couldn't shake a niggling feeling of a presence. Something in the air. The smell of cigarettes? But no one in this building smoked.
She stepped into the hallway leading to her bedroom and froze.
Her clothes cascaded from her dresser drawers. Her closet had been ransacked.
Someone's been here.
She looked toward her phone. A floorboard creaked and before she could react, a strong, gloved hand reached from behind and covered her mouth. A large, rock hard arm hooked her neck in a vise-like grip, crushing her windpipe, lifting her body. Her toes brushed against her hardwood floor as she was carried to the bathroom and her face thrust before the mirror.
The eyes of her attacker stared into hers.
He held her there long enough for her to recognize him and exhume long-buried pain. Then a knife blade glinted at her throat.
"Scream and you'll die," he said. "Understand?"
She nodded and he loosened his hold over her mouth.
"You know why I'm here."
"It's gone," she swallowed, "I told you, it's gone."
"You're lying! Where is it?"
His grip tightened until she whimpered. The blade scraped over her skin, breaking it. Blood webbed down her neck, tears filled her eyes, and she said, "We can never erase the sins of our past."
His anger burned.
"No," he said, "but we can pay for them."
Her eyes widened suddenly as the blade sliced deep across her throat. Her hands tried to stem the blood.
"I forgive you," she whispered.
He let her collapse gently to the floor as if she were his dance partner. He watched her struggle for something in her pocket. A rosary. Her blood-stained fingers squeezed it. He watched for several moments until Sister Anne's face emptied of life. Then he returned to her bedroom and resumed shuffling through her personal papers and photographs.
Stopping at a recent snapshot of a boy. Searching the kid's eyes and face, the man studied it long and hard until he almost smiled. He now had the link to the thing that belonged to him.
All he had to do was claim it before time ran out