Authors: Philip Carter
A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Philip Carter
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Gallery Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
First Gallery Books hardcover edition March 2011
GALLERY BOOKS and colophon are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at
. Interior design by Davina Mock-Maniscalco Endpaper map by Paul J. Pugliese
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Altar of bones / Philip Carter.—1st Gallery Books hardcover ed.
1. Couples—Fiction. 2. Secrets—Fiction. I. Title.
ISBN 978-1-4391-9946-6 (ebook)
give thanks to the following people for their tremendous support and encouragement during the writing and publication of this book:
To my agent, Aaron Priest, for always telling it like it is, both the good and the bad. You’re the best in the business. Bar none. And to Lucy Childs and Frances Jalet-Miller for their extensive and well-thought-out editorial critiques, which ended up making the book so much better.
To my publisher, Louise Burke, and my best-in-the-world editor, Kara Cesare, of Gallery Books, and all the others at Simon & Schuster, from the art department to sales to production, who’ve put so much time and effort into getting the book on the shelves and into the hands of readers.
To CC for your generous advice and encouragement during our weekly lunches at the high-cholesterol factory. You know I could never have done it without you. And to TG, for so much it would take a book in itself just to describe it all. Everyone needs someone they can count on to come bail them out of jail in the middle of the night, and you’re that someone for me. (Not that that has ever happened. Yet.) And to my fellow writers of the First Wednesday of the Month Group, for always being there with advice and support.
And finally to my own One, for having put up with me all these years. How lucky I am to have you to go through life with by my side.
San Francisco, California
the stranger had come to kill her as soon as he walked into the circle of light cast by their fire.
They were deep in the woods of Golden Gate Park where the cops wouldn’t harass them—a small colony of homeless that panhandled on Haight Street during the day and camped out in the park at night. Rosie was new to the group, but it had been her idea to arrange their shopping carts in a circle like a wagon train, then cover them with cardboard and blankets to create a makeshift shelter. Still, she shivered in the bitter February wind as she looked up into the stranger’s eyes. His killer eyes.
She’d caught a duck earlier, down by Stow Lake, and was cooking it over the flames using a coat hanger for a spit. The stranger pretended the roasting meat had drawn him, but Rosie knew better.
“Hey, there,” he said. His English was good, but the burr of Mother Russia still lay thick on his tongue. “I dove a Dumpster tonight and found this.” He held up a pint of Wild Turkey as he came closer. “I’m willing to share for a bite of what you got cooking.”
Willard, who was their default leader, put down his beer and stood up to bump fists with the man. “Bring it on, friend.”
The stranger—a big, rawboned guy, wearing a greasy brown ponytail and a tough face—sat down cross-legged, close to the fire. He grinned real wide as he handed over his offering.
Willard was tall with a cue ball for a head and prison scratch over every inch of his skin. Even his face was tattooed with a pair of teardrops under each eye. Yet he gave the whiskey bottle a look of childish wonder. “Man, that was some lucky Dumpster.”
The stranger smiled again. “A liquor store over on Polk Street
caught fire last night, and they wrecked the place putting it out. Most of the shit inside got broken, and the cops and firemen probably ripped off what didn’t. Guess I got lucky, huh?”
Rosie had no doubt the burnt liquor store with its Dumpster existed. Men like him usually got the details right.
He had the homeless look down, too: jeans so grimy it was hard to tell if they’d once been blue, crack pipe stuck in his coat pocket, dirt caked in the seams of his skin. His eyes, though, were all wrong. They weren’t empty or beaten or lost. They were sharp, focused. The kind that could slide a knife across your throat without blinking, or put a bullet in your head from a rooftop two hundred yards away.