Authors: Chris Mooney
THE SECRET FRIEND
Chris Mooney is the author of four previous thrillers.
was nominated for the prestigious Edgar Award for Best Novel, and his most recent bestselling novel,
was the first to feature CSI Darby McCormick. He lives in Boston with his wife and son.
The Secret Friend
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published 2008
Copyright © Chris Mooney, 2008
All rights reserved
The moral right of the author has been asserted
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject
to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent,
re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s
prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in
which it is published and without a similar condition including this
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
For Pam Bernstein,
mentor and friend.
You’re one in a million.
Darby McCormick had finished hanging the last of the bloody clothing inside the drying chamber when she heard her name called over the loudspeakers. Leland Pratt, the lab director, wanted to see her inside his office immediately.
Darby stripped out of her latex gloves and lab coat and used the sink in Serology. As she scrubbed her hands, she glanced in the mirror. On her left cheek and underneath her eye was a thin, jagged scar partially hidden by makeup. The plastic surgeons had done a remarkable job, considering the amount of damage Traveler’s axe had caused. She removed the rubber band holding her ponytail, her dark red hair falling against her shoulders, and dried her hands with a paper towel as she left the room.
Standing behind Leland’s desk and talking on the phone was a thin woman impeccably dressed in a sharp black business suit – Boston Police Commissioner Christina Chadzynski.
The woman placed a hand over the phone’s mouthpiece.
‘I’m sorry, I was looking for Leland,’ Darby said. ‘He paged me.’
‘Yes, I know. Come in and shut the door.’ The commissioner returned to her phone call.
Christina Chadzynski was the first woman to hold the commissioner’s job, the highest position inside the Boston Police Department. When her name had been thrown into the ring as a potential candidate, the Boston media had anointed her as the ‘great hope’ to build a bridge between Boston police and community leaders in high crime areas like Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester, where she had been born and raised.
Three years into her term, Boston’s homicide rate had soared to its highest level in decades. Politicians decided to offer up Chadzynski as the sacrificial lamb, and the Boston media took the bait. Newspaper columnists and other so-called media experts were calling for her resignation. Chadzynski had failed, they said, because she wasn’t devoted to her job, because she was no longer in touch with the common man since she had married Pawel Chadzynski, a former investment banker turned power broker who was active in Boston’s political circles. There were rumours Chadzynski was planning a run for mayor’s office.
‘I’ve got to go,’ Chadzynski said and hung up. She motioned to the pair of stiff chairs set up in front of Leland’s government-issued desk. ‘Miss McCormick, are you familiar with CSU?’
Darby nodded. The newly formed Crime Scene Investigative Unit was a specialized group made up of the department’s top investigators and forensic technicians who responded to the city’s homicides, rapes and other violent crimes. Appointment to the unit was by the police commissioner. Darby had applied for one of the forensic positions. She wasn’t asked for an interview.
‘Emma Hale,’ Chadzynski said, opening a file. ‘I assume you know who she is.’
‘I’ve being following the case in the papers.’ Last year, in March, the freshman Harvard student disappeared after attending a friend’s party. Eight months later, in November, the week before Thanksgiving, her waterlogged body had washed up on the bank of the Charles River in a section of Charlestown locals called ‘The Oilies’. Emma Hale had been shot in the back of the head.
‘I take it ballistics didn’t match the slug to a former case,’ Darby said.
‘We didn’t find a match.’ Chadzynski put on a pair of thick-framed designer glasses. A significant amount of money had been invested in her hair, makeup, clothes and jewellery. The diamond ring was at least three carats.
‘When Emma Hale disappeared, CSU thought it might be a kidnapping – her father, Jonathan Hale, is very wealthy,’ Chadzynski said. ‘Then another college student disappeared this past December.’
‘Do you know what happened?’
‘The papers say she vanished on her way home from the campus library.’
‘CSU is investigating a possible connection.’
‘Is there one?’
‘They’re both college students. That’s the only connection we have. The slug we recovered from Emma Hale’s skull isn’t connected to any cases, and all her time spent in the water washed away any trace evidence. The only piece of evidence we have is a religious statue. I’m sure you read about
in the papers.’
Darby nodded. Both the
citing an anonymous police source, said a ‘religious’ statue had been found inside the victim’s pocket.
‘Have you heard anything about the statue?’ Chadzynski asked.
‘The word around the lab is that it was a statue of the Virgin Mary.’
‘Yes, it is. What else have you heard?’
‘The statue was sewn inside Emma Hale’s pocket.’
‘What did NCIC have to say?’ Darby asked. The National Crime Information Center, a nationwide database maintained by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services, was the de facto clearing house for all open and solved cases involving murder, missing persons, fugitives and stolen property.
‘NCIC didn’t contain any homicides involving a Virgin Mary statue sewn into the victim’s pocket,’ Chadzynski said.
‘Did you talk to the site profiler at the Boston office?’
‘We consulted him.’ Chadzynski leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. ‘Leland told me you recently completed your doctorate in criminal psychology from Harvard.’
‘And you’ve studied at the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit.’
‘I’ve attended lectures.’
‘Why do you think the killer – whom we are presuming is male – took the time to sew this statue inside a dead woman’s pocket?’
‘I’m sure the site profiler shared his theories with you.’
‘He did. Now I’d like to hear what you have to say.’
‘The Virgin Mary obviously holds some special significance for him.’
‘Obviously,’ Chadzynski said. ‘What else?’
‘She’s the primal archetype for the loving, caring mother.’
‘You’re telling me this man’s got mommy issues?’
‘What man doesn’t have mother issues?’
Chadzynski let out a tired laugh.
‘On some level the killer cared for her,’ Darby said. ‘Emma Hale was kept alive for several months. When her body was found, she was wearing the same clothes she had worn on the night she disappeared. And she was shot in the back of the head.’
‘Do you think that’s significant?’
‘It suggests that he couldn’t face Emma Hale – that he felt some sort of shame or remorse for having to kill her.’
Chadzynski stared at her for what seemed like several minutes.
‘Darby, I’d like to place you on CSU. You can appoint anyone from the lab to your team. In addition to your forensic responsibilities, I’d also like for you to act as the second lead on the unit. You’ll share investigative duties with Tim Bryson. Have you met him?’
‘Just in passing,’ Darby said. She didn’t know much about the man beyond the fact that he had once been married and had a daughter who died of a rare form of leukaemia. Bryson didn’t talk about it. He was intensely private, didn’t fraternize with the crew outside the job. Other cops said Bryson was fiercely dedicated to his work, a quality she deeply admired.
‘This is a tremendous opportunity,’ Chadzynski said. ‘You’ll be the first forensic technician in the history of the department to be placed in an investigative position.’
‘Yes, I realize that.’
‘So why do I sense some hesitation?’
‘If you really felt this way, why did you reject my application?’
‘After your… encounter with Traveler, the department offered you counselling and you refused it.’
‘I didn’t see the need.’
‘And why is that?’
Darby folded her hands on her lap. She didn’t answer.
‘You survived a traumatic event,’ Chadzynski said. ‘Some people think –’
‘With all due respect, Commissioner, I don’t care what other people think.’
Chadzynski’s smile was polite. ‘You caught Traveler. He was on the run for three decades. The FBI’s top profilers couldn’t find him, but you did. I could use your experience here.’
‘I’ll need access to all the information – murder book, autopsy records and pictures.’
‘Tim will have copies delivered to you today.’
‘Have you discussed this with him?’
‘I have. His ego is bruised, but he’ll be fine. You know how men are.’ A conspiratorial grin now. ‘I also think these two cases could benefit from a fresh look at the evidence, what little of it we have. Who would you recommend from the lab?’
‘Coop and Keith Woodbury,’ Darby said.
‘Coop… Do you mean Jackson Cooper, your lab partner?’
‘Yes.’ Jackson Cooper, known around the station as ‘Coop’, was, in addition to being Darby’s friend, the closest thing she had to family since her mother died. ‘Coop was involved with the Traveler case. I could use his help here.’
‘I don’t know Mr Woodbury.’
‘Keith’s only been with us for a few months – he’s our new forensic chemist.’ Darby had worked with him on a recent shooting case. Woodbury was thorough and, without a doubt, one of the brightest people she had met.
‘Then let’s bring them in so I can welcome them aboard,’ Chadzynski said.
‘Coop’s off today, and Keith’s at a seminar in Washington.’
‘Then I’ll let you deliver the good news.’ Chadzynski, using a gold fountain pen, wrote on the back of a business card.
‘I may need additional lab resources,’ Darby said.
‘You’ll have them. I discussed the matter with Leland. You have his full support.’
Chadzynski slid the card across the desk. ‘The top number is my cell phone. Tim’s numbers are below it. He’s expecting your phone call. Do you have any other questions for me?’
‘Not at the moment.’
‘Then I’ll let you get to it.’ The commissioner picked up the phone and started dialling.
Darby left voicemail messages for Coop and Keith Woodbury. Tim Bryson didn’t answer at any of his numbers. She left a message at his cell phone number asking him to call and then checked out Emma Hale’s forensic file.
From the evidence locker, Darby checked out Emma Hale’s clothing and carried the sealed evidence bags to the back benches in Serology, where she would have plenty of space to spread out.
Darby placed the file on the bench but didn’t read it. She wanted to examine the clothing herself and see if her analysis matched the report compiled by Paula Washow, the forensic technician assigned to CSU.
Emma Hale’s clothes, caked with dried mud and algae and stained with blood, were ripped and torn in several places from the weeks she spent bumping up against rocks, sticks and whatever debris lined the bed of the Charles River.
Lying on the sheets of butcher paper were a Dolce & Gabbana cocktail dress, size 2; a camel-hair winter topcoat by Prada; and a single pair of Jimmy Choo high-heel pumps, size 6, the heel broken. The lacy black thong and matching bra were imprinted with the name of a high-end lingerie boutique on Newbury Street – Boston’s equivalent to Rodeo Drive.
Darby owned only one designer treasure: a heavily discounted black Diane von Furstenberg dress she’d accidentally discovered on a clearance rack. Emma Hale had spent an
amount on this outfit – the lingerie alone was a few hundred dollars.
The Harvard student’s body was discovered by a local pit bull off its leash, buried underneath two inches of frozen snow. Hale was brought to the morgue and photographed. Darby studied the photos.
Hale’s coat belt was tied and knotted around her waist. One of her shoes was missing, the other hanging on to her ankle by a single strap. Her hands and feet, Darby noticed, weren’t bound.
Dried bloodstains, diluted from Emma Hale’s time in the water, were visible on the back of the coat. Blood had soaked through the coat’s fabric. The flow pattern suggested that, after she was shot in the back of the head, Emma had lain on her back for a period of time, the blood seeping through her jacket and onto her dress. The drag patterns indicated she had been moved.
Had Emma simply landed on her back after she was shot, or had her killer rolled her over to allow her to bleed out before moving her? With no crime scene to analyse, no blood splatter patterns to interpret, it was impossible to know. Either Emma was shot near the dump site – maybe even at the dump site – or she was shot at another location and then transported to the place where she was dropped into the water.
If Emma had been shot outside, how had her abductor managed to keep her calm? Did he tell Emma she was going home and make her change into her old clothing? Wearing her old clothes, Emma would feel comfortable. She might take him at his word. Did he blindfold her? If Emma wasn’t gagged, she might scream. If she wasn’t bound, she might run. Someone might hear the gunshot and call the police. Someone might see him and call the police. If Emma was killed outside, in a public spot, and then dragged or rolled off something like a bridge, blood would be left behind. Someone might stumble across it and decide to call the police.
And when did her killer sew the statue in her dress pocket? Did he do it when she was alive or after she was dead? Would he take the time to sew the pocket shut outside where he might be seen? Doubtful.
The more likely scenario was that Emma Hale was killed at the place where she had been kept for several months. Her abductor would have privacy and control over his environment. After she was dead, he could take his time sewing the statue inside the dress pocket. He could let her bleed out. Then he could move her body to his vehicle and drive to the dump site. Darby wondered if Emma’s body had been wrapped in something like a plastic tarp.
Darby took her own set of pictures of the clothes and then, using the light magnifier, began the long, painstaking hunt across the fabrics looking for any overlooked evidence. Small, rectangular-shaped cuts were visible on the clothes – the places where Washow had collected bloodstain samples for DNA testing.
As she worked, her thoughts kept drifting to Judith Chen’s parents. They had flown up from Pennsylvania and for the past three months lived in a shabby hotel waiting for the phone to ring with news of their youngest daughter. The Boston press followed their every move.
Darby finished her initial review shortly before 11:30 a.m. Next, she examined the clothes using various light sources and checked the blood patterns and tears under a stereo microscope. She found no other trace evidence – no fibres, threads, hairs, glass or any biological fluids.
From the last evidence bag, she removed the five-inch ceramic statue of the Virgin Mary. The Blessed Mother, dressed in a blue robe, stood in the classic pose Darby remembered from church and catechism books – hands outstretched in a loving embrace and head titled slightly to the side as she looked downward, the woman’s expression frozen with eternal sorrow.
The man who shot Emma held this same statue in his hands. He placed it in her dress pocket and then sewed it shut. He wanted to make sure the statue stayed with her. Why? What was the significance of the statue and why was it so important that it stayed with Emma after she died?
During lunch, Darby read over Washow’s forensic report. Washow hadn’t found any trace evidence on the clothing, which wasn’t surprising. Floaters were notoriously difficult. All the time spent underwater had washed away any trace evidence, if there was any to be found.
The clothing had been treated with luminol to enhance the diluted bloodstains. The collected blood samples matched Emma Hale’s DNA profile. Testing on the thread used to sew the statue inside the dress pocket came up negative for blood.
No blood or fingerprints were found on the statue. The underwear was sprayed with a chemical marker for traces of semen. Negative. No foreign pubic hairs were found. Vaginal and anal swabs failed to reveal any DNA evidence.
The bottom of the Virgin Mary was stamped with the words ‘Our Lady of Sorrow’ – a charity organization started in 1910 that used the proceeds from the sale of religious statues, rosary beads, prayer cards and religious note cards to help fight world hunger. The charity disbanded in 1946. No reason was given. The statue was manufactured by the Wellington Company based out of Charlestown, North Carolina. The last production run for this particular Virgin Mary statue was in 1944. The company went bankrupt in 1958. Since the statues weren’t manufactured any more, there was no way to trace them.
Washow, assuming the statue may have some worth as a collectible, conducted an exhaustive search with several Boston-based antique dealers specializing in religious items. The Virgin Mary statue amounted to nothing more than a cheap trinket.
Standing inside her office, Darby thought about the lingerie. Did Emma Hale have a boyfriend or someone special she was meeting that night?
And what had happened to Emma Hale’s purse? Had it been dumped or had her killer held on to it as a souvenir? Darby considered the question as she left the lab, on her way to an appointment.