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Mark T. Sullivan (b. 1958) is an author of thrillers. Born in a Boston suburb, he joined the Peace Corp after college, traveling to West Africa to live with a tribe of Saharan nomads. Upon returning to the United States, he took a job at Reuters, beginning a decade-long career in journalism that would eventually lead to a job as an investigative reporter for the San Diego Tribune. Sullivan spent the winter of 1990 living with a group of skiers in Utah and Wyoming, and used the experience as the foundation for his first novel, The Fall Line (1994). In 1995 he published Hard News, a thriller based on his work as a reporter, and a year later he released The Purification Ceremony, which won the WH Smith Award for Best New Talent. His most recent work is Private Games (2012), which he co-authored with James Patterson. Sullivan lives with his family in Montana, where he skis, hunts, and practices martial arts.
Thirty hours later, at seven forty-five in the morning, clouds the hue of Tahitian pearls rolled in off the Pacific, pushed by a chill, relentless wind that trod down the waves, gnawed the cliffs, and prowled inland. These were unusually harsh conditions for mid-April in a place that rarely sees a bad day weatherwise. But on this Saturday April Fool's morning in La Jolla, California, it was cold. Indeed, if you asked Mary Aboubacar, a chambermaid recently immigrated from Kenya, the air was downright frigid.
Mary shivered, took her eyes off the churning ocean far below, and turned her back to the wind. A tall woman, late twenties, with skin like whipped mocha, she clutched her sweater at the lapels, hoisted a bucket containing her cleaning gear, then hurried along a walkway that curved through the lush courtyard of an apartment complex, aptly, if dully, named Sea View Villas. The facility catered to white-collar workers who toiled on a contract basis for the vibrant San Diego biotechnology industry and rented month-to-month for $1,800 to $2,200. Laundry and maid service, $400 extra.
Mary's supervisor had called at six A.M. to tell her the regular Saturday maid was ill. She was on double overtime, seven units to clean.
She bent her head into the wind. The cement path looped back toward the ocean and building five, a three-story structure that reminded her of one of the embassies in Nairobi. Whitewashed stucco walls, carved wooden doors, and a tiled roof the color of red clay in the highlands where she'd grown up.
Mary set the bucket down at the bottom of the staircase and stood aside as a man rushed down the last flight. Sea View residents all seemed to look alike: young, rich, in such a hurry, and they stayed so little time that she'd long since abandoned her early habit of greeting them. Still, she noticed as he passed that he was white and that she had never seen him before. And she had the impression he was agitated. He lugged a burgundy leather suitcase and soon disappeared toward the parking lot.
Massaging her lower back, Mary lifted the bucket again and climbed three flights of stairs to her first unit. She stopped at the door, rang the bell, waited a minute, then rang again. When no one answered, she unlocked the door and pushed it open a few inches. "Maid service," she called out in her singsong voice. "Anybody home?"
Mary pushed the door wide open. Hesitating, she stepped inside, flipped on the lights, and took in the particulars of the large outer room in a single glance. This was a Gold Level apartment—the views, furniture upgrades. Sliding glass doors led to a balcony overlooking the ocean. Bone curtains, drawn. Off-white carpet. Glass coffee table, tan leather sofa, and love seat arranged before an entertainment center. Beyond a bar-height counter lay a small kitchen, appliances in stainless steel.
The place looked like it had just been cleaned. No newspapers strewn about. No dishes in the sink. Carpet vacuumed. The faint smell of bleach in the air.
From her pocket, Mary pulled out a piece of paper and checked what she'd scrawled there—building fíve, unit nine—against the numbers on the outer door. She shrugged and smiled at her good fortune. She could claim the unit as done without having to work a lick.
Ready to leave and go have a couple of smokes in her secret place out on the cliff, she thought to at least check the rest of the apartment. Down the hall, past a framed photograph of the outer Coronado Islands at sunset, the young maid frowned at red candle wax in the carpet right in front of the closed door to the bedroom. A stench reached her and she paused, thinking that the current resident—she didn't even know his name—had been using the bathroom when she'd rung the bell and called out.
She knocked. "Hello?" Hearing nothing, she twisted the handle, then pushed at the door, and felt a strong wind coming through the bedroom window. Mary took one look inside the bedroom and jumped back in abject terror.
"Ebola!" she screamed, racing down the hallway. "Ebola!"CHAPTER 2
Some sixteen miles away on a field of dreams in North Park, a considerably less tony part of San Diego, Jimmy Moynihan was experiencing his first crucifixion.
It was the bottom of the first and he'd given up three hits, walked two, and was now behind three-and-oh on the best hitter in the league, a brute named Rafael Quintana, who, at twelve years old, had the first shade of a mustache on his upper lip and sported shoulders that suggested his old man had been force-feeding him testosterone-producing supplements.
"C'mon, Jimbo, fire one by him," I called from a fence along the right-field line. "Gimme a strike, here."
Jimmy didn't look my way from behind his wire-rimmed glasses. He seemed somewhere else, playing with the ball behind his back. Unsure of himself. A bad thing for a pitcher. Like myself at age ten, he's a tall, skinny kid with freckles, thick dark hair and a mouth full of braces. And, like myself, he was blessed early on with deceptive arm strength and fluid coordination. But as I've learned over the years, there are days you've got control and days you don't, and so far that dank morning my one and only offspring looked like he never did.
He went into his windup. I lobbed a silent prayer to the god of Little League, then shuddered at a sinker that did not sink. Jimmy delivered a deli sandwich, middle of the plate, thigh-high. Rafael pulverized it. Three runs scored. And I felt like the guy Paul Newman kicks in the balls in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
I suppose I expected tears from Jimmy. That's usually what happens when young kids get hammered. But his eyes flared up with rage and he began kicking at the mound.
"What do you think?" asked Don Stetson, my assistant coach, a fit little dude who worships me because once upon a time, many, many moons ago, I actually pitched in the major leagues. Even if it was only for nineteen games.
"I think we ought to check Rafael's birth certificate, see if he's old enough to down a few Coronas with us after the game. Maybe throw in a blood test or two."
"C'mon, Shay," Don pleaded. "We're getting crushed here."
"I know. Shit, I hate this part," I replied, stepping onto the field to yell, "Time."
I walked across the infield toward Jimmy, who was doing his best to dig an irrigation ditch on the mound. He would not look at me.
"Buncha balls been heading that a way," I said, nodding at the left-field fence.
"I'm fine, everyone and everything's fine," Jimmy replied. "Leave me in."
"Getting shelled happens to everyone sooner or later."
"Not to you."
"You got a lot to learn about your old man."
"Mom says that all the time."
"Savvy woman, your mom."
"She isn't trying to be nice."
"Imagine that," I said. "Look, send the Lawton kid in and take his place in right field. Do me proud out there, okay? Never quit, right?"
He looked up at me and replied with sarcasm, "Never quit. Right, Dad. I'll remember that." Then he slapped the ball in my hand, turned, and stormed toward left. I watched him go a moment, then shook my head and started back to the dugout, wondering why boys have to begin learning about the harshness of life after only a decade on earth.
My ex-wife, Fay, watched me from the bleachers. Even in cutoff shorts and an old sweatshirt, she looked stunning. Her sun-streaked crimson hair fell in chaos about her shoulders, framing freckled cheeks, an aquiline nose, and lips half twisted up in bemusement, half down in despair, as if she alone appreciated the irony of life's cruel jokes. But it was the opal eyes that got me—that always got me—eyes laced with clouds, able to look right through me. Half our problem.
I caught her attention and shrugged. She did not smile, but arched her eyebrows and turned to talk with her latest beau. This one, Walter Patterson, liked to garden, bake bread, drum, go to poetry slams, and take long walks on the beach—all this when he wasn't toiling as chief resident of emergency medicine at the UCSD Medical Center, the largest hospital in the county.
Walter had regular hours, never missed an appointment, never broke a promise, never screwed around, never sabotaged, and let Fay control the boundaries of their relationship. Probably his main attraction, I thought, turning back to the game.
Luckily, the Lawton kid got us out of the inning. Soon enough we had two on in the second, with no outs and Jimmy on deck. The beeper on my hip lit off.
"Son of a bitch," I said, seeing the number. I got my cell phone and walked around the back of the dugout. "This better be good. My kid's up next."
"Sorry, Sergeant," replied the silky voice of Lieutenant Anna Cleary, the watch commander. "We've got a body. County is hauling moon suits to the scene."
"Patrol says there could be a biohazard. Rogers doesn't want to take any chances. Neither does the medical examiner."
"Thought I'd make your day."
"You're always kind to the downtrodden, Anna," I said.
"Only to you, Shay," she replied.
"Sea View Villas, La Jolla."
"Death among the brilliant, the superrich, and the fleeting doyens of DNA," I said, then hung up and came back around the dugout to find Jimmy at the plate. As he dug in he looked up at me with those please-don't-go eyes I've learned to live with the past five years. I lifted my badge from its lanyard around my neck. At the sight of it, his expression moved toward anger again, then he turned his attention from me, the weight of the world in his bat, a weight somehow connected to the shoveled-out feeling that always spreads through my gut whenever I have to leave him like this.CHAPTER 3
Twenty minutes later, I pulled into Sea View Villas and parked my 1967 metallic-green Corvette, about the only thing in my life I've managed to maintain in mint condition. I almost never drive the old muscle car when I'm on rotation. The department gives me an unmarked Plymouth sedan for my excursions into the dark side of San Diego. But Jimmy loves the Monster, and it was my turn that morning to drive him to his game. Giving him a ride in an old Corvette is the least I can do for him, considering.
Mist and fog hung thick over the parking lot when I climbed out. And the air was heavy with the scent of the sea as I walked toward the uniformed patrol officers standing at the rear doors to a white van belonging to the San Diego County Hazardous Materials Response team. The flashing cruiser lights caught the fog in a weird blue strobe effect and I stopped, stricken with the image of a much younger Seamus Michael Moynihan, twenty-one to be exact, clicking on spikes down a shadowed tunnel tainted with sweat, glory, and soon-to-be shattered dreams.
These flashbacks to an earlier me had been happening with increasing and frustrating regularity the few months prior to Mary Aboubacar's discovery of the body: I would encounter the apparatus of death investigations and my mind would spin back to a youthful me walking down that tunnel toward brilliant sunlight and a roaring crowd.
I stop just shy of the light, look at my glove, and think I'm going to puke. Then the gathered voices of the park become irresistibly deafening, like sirens that draw me out into the light and the storied confines of Fenway.
During warm-ups I don't let myself look at the crowd. I stay focused on my catcher, on his mitt, on the shimmering grass, on the moist, red clay between us. And every once in a while, between pitches, I allow myself a glance at that wall rising impossibly high out there in left. Then the national anthem ends and I take the mound, oblivious to the fact that this will be my last outing as a major leaguer.
Between each pitch of my final warm-up, I finally allow myself to look across the third-base line into the stands. At first the crowd appears as a blur composed of thousands of bits of moving, screaming color, an impressionist painting come to life.
Then individual faces leap out at me, all female. The redhead near the corner of the backstop winks. I swear I know her. The brunette three rows behind the Yankees dugout raises her beer and I'm unsure. The blonde beyond third base holds up a hotel room key, but I turn away, startled: I do know her.
The umpire yells, "Play ball!" Just before the batter steps into the box, I take one last look at the crowd, way out past the blonde, deep into the grandstands that abut the Green Monster. A man stands there. He's rawboned, wears a blue polo shirt, and sports a startling shock of red hair. For a second I'm befuddled. He looks just like my dad. And it's like my whole past and future is contained in this one moment. This one moment.
I blink, shake my head, and he's gone. A ghost. A specter that haunts me to this day. Everything else changes, but these things never do. The constants of my life: baseball, women, and death.
Chill rain spit out of the fog, shaking me from my memories. I ran the rest of the way to the HazMat van. And soon a tech was helping me into one of those suits you might see on the swank set at Chernobyl. We had no idea if it was Ebola, but we weren't taking any chances.
As I tightened the pants' waist, the patrolmen gathered at the rear of the van stood aside for a swarthy man wearing a blue Homicide windbreaker. Detective Rikko Varjjan was in his early forties, an even six feet tall, two hundred hard pounds, with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and a diamond in his left ear.
"How we doing?" I asked.
"Missy, she talks to the super," Rikko grunted in the thickly accented English of an Israeli. "Jorge's with the maid. Me? Praying for suicide, what else?"
"Detective Varjjan, you never give up on the possibility of suicide, do you?" snorted Dr. Marshall Solomon, the San Diego County medical examiner, who stood beside me, being strapped into his own biohazard suit.
Rikko's face clouded. "You call suicide, I go home, see my babies' ballet recital. I try not to miss those things because some fool decides death is better than life."
I smiled. Rikko's always coming up with stuff like that. His father was a Hungarian Jew who survived Treblinka, then emigrated to Israel, where he married an American visiting from San Diego. Like all Israeli youth do, he had served in the military. Rikko had been a commando patrolling the streets of Jerusalem during the intifada of the late 1980's. Afterward he went to work for the Jerusalem Police Department, eventually becoming a top homicide detective in the holy city.
Seven years ago, while working a case that brought him to San Diego, Rikko met me, and through me he met my sister, and they fell in love. He was bitter about life in Israel and applied for work with the San Diego PD. With his dual citizenship and remarkable background, he was soon hired. His strong-arm tactics make some higher-ups queasy. But he's extremely effective. He's also funny and my best friend.
Ordinarily, Rikko is pretty much unflappable. But right then, standing at the rear of the van, a look of anxiousness crossed his face. "Doc, you seen this Ebola before?"
Solomon, an angular man with a silver goatee, shook his head. "But we had a case of hantavirus, a distant relative of Ebola, out in East County a few years back. Autopsy was a nightmare. State health insisted we build a sealed container to perform it in."
I cringed and asked the biohazards tech to put more duct tape on my wrists as a stocky Asian woman hustled through the rain toward us, carrying a Starbucks cup and a slim white notebook.
"Got a preliminary ID on the victim, Sarge," she said.
"Morgan Cook, Jr.," she began. "Biotech researcher for Double Helix, Inc. Been here three months on and off. Married. Kids. House up north of L.A. Normally goes home on weekends. The super says he has no complaints against him. Kept to himself."
"The maid sure about Ebola?" Rikko demanded.
Solomon's face screwed up. "Sure she's sure," he snapped. "She's got a Ph.D. in cleanology and that gives her the ability to diagnose one of the world's rarest and deadliest viruses."
"I don't know, Doc," Missy said, waving the notebook at him. "She says she worked as a nurse's aide at a hospital in Nairobi and saw bodies like that before."
Even buffered by the department issue raincoat, Missy Pan looked like an athlete. In college, she was second team all-American field hockey midfielder. She has the most powerful legs and the broadest shoulders of any woman I've ever known. No matter what she does to soften her big frame, it is there—this coiled power in her carriage that always makes me think of her as a not-so-hidden dragon with fierce determination, a contagious laugh, and the ability to work twenty-four hours straight and never yawn. Not once.
Excerpted from The Second Woman by Mark T. Sullivan. Copyright © 2003 Mark Sullivan. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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Posted February 23, 2013
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