A priest is in the midst of a personal crisis when a killer lures him into a twisted world of moral corruption, cover-ups and revenge.
Previously: The Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department is investigating the murder of an elderly shut-in. Because of the nature of the crime, there is a mounting concern this could be the first act of a serial killer. The only objects taken from the scene are those of religious significance, including a rose quartz rosary.
Marsha Nugent had seen the backside of her youth three decades earlier. Her biological clock had sprung its springs, and she freely admitted she'd worked up more sweat during menopause than she ever had in the bedroom.
She approached her profession with the fervor of a born-again Christian. In her own estimation, her instincts as a nurse bordered on the supernatural. And who better than the trapped, terrified elderly to feed her savior complex?
For seven years she'd held the position of Home Care Nurse. The nature of her job allowed her to be free of the politics of institutional nursing. Despite a considerable cut in pay, she relished the ability to call her own shots.
This was her first appointment of the day. Though she had a full caseload, she'd buckled to her superior's pressure to assume the care of Gertrude Pearce.
"This case is right up your alley," Jane Richter insisted -- a bit desperately Marsha thought. "Two other nurses have begged me to re-assign them from the Pearce woman's case. I can't get them to tell me what's really going on, either. They maintain her wound care needs outweigh their experience, but get all squirmy when I press for more details."
Glancing at the file on the seat, she verified the house number and brought her Durango to rest in the middle of a pile of dry leaves.
Exactly two minutes to spare.
Marsha craned her neck to locate an entrance. The residence sat at the rear end of its lot, closer to the alley than the street. Evergreen trees dwarfed the bungalow, their limbs grasping for possession of the rotted roof.
Despite the looming presence of St. Matilde's twin spires, the area had experienced a surge in car invasions. Marsha blanketed anything that might appear valuable to a thief, gathered her valise, exited and locked the vehicle. She smoothed the wrinkles from her suit and finger-combed her silver bob.
First impressions tend to last.
On reviewing the case file the previous evening, Marsha was disturbed by what it didn't contain. Each of her predecessors had mentioned a son as primary caregiver. Neither included an assessment of the son's ability or willingness to follow through with their recommendations. This was surprising given that Gertrude was a brittle diabetic who'd suffered a debilitating stroke.
Aside from their initial conversation with the man, there was no further mention of him in the file. An oversight of that magnitude by one nurse was bad enough. But two nurses?
Curiosity piqued; she talked with both women by phone. They repeated their 'official' explanation for asking to be reassigned. Jackie, the second-case nurse, tersely hinted at something darker. "The son, Eddie, totally creeped me out. When you meet him, you'll know what I mean."
Her breath was coming a little faster at the thought of today's meeting with this mystery man. She had seen every kind of elder abuse during her years of nursing. No matter how subtle, Marsha had a knack for finding it.
I don't get paid to look the other way.
The sound of her heels hitting the sidewalk never made it off the ground. She followed the path through a thicket of lilac bushes. Passing through them, she had a weird thought.
Could my life be in danger?
Ahead she could see a single cement step beneath the front door. It was covered by a sheet of plywood forming a crude ramp. Forced to step into the tall, damp weeds beside the stoop, she set down her valise and stretched to reach the doorbell.
She pressed the bell twice with no answer.
Have they forgotten the appointment?
Marsha retrieved her valise, balanced her weight on the edge of the step and raised a fist to pound on the door.
She heard the scrape of metal against wood. Dropping her arm to her side, she waited for the person on the other side of the door to reveal themself.
A male figure blocked her view of the room beyond. Marsha had no ready explanation for why everything about him seemed wrong.
"Who're you?" he demanded.
She thrust her hand forward and said, "I'm Marsha Nugent, Gertrude's new home care nurse."
He ignored her outstretched hand. Marsha pulled it back to safety.
"Are you the son?"
His laugh bled bitterness. "Yeah, I'm the son."
Stepping aside, he pointed down a hallway.
"You'll find Ma in the back bedroom."
She blocked the warning bells in her brain in order to focus on the woman she was there to help. Sweeping past him, she located the bedroom and entered.
Combined smells of feces and unwashed flesh permeated the room. She whirled, fully intending to give the son a chewing out, but his lurid features silenced her.
Stretched taut across prominent cheekbones and a high forehead, Marsha had the impression of young skin on old bones. The pupils of his eyes were lifeless black voids in the middle of white pools. He had a neatly trimmed goatee and diamond studs in both earlobes.
"Ma's afraid of the dark, so she sleeps during the day. Maybe you can examine her without waking her up?"
Marsha's voice sounded shrill to her own ears. "That would be a violation of my code of ethics. I will not conduct an examination of your mother without her permission."
His malicious smile turned her blood to ice.
The man turned away, and Marsha noticed the tip of what looked like a dragon tattoo at the base of his skull.
"A dragon's blood turns from red to amber as it soaks into the ground."
My God he's reading my thoughts.
"Drinking the blood is said to make you invincible."
He traced the shape of a cross into the air and growled.
"You enjoy your power, don't you Miss Nugent?"
Marsha answered in a firm, take-charge voice. "I would like to get back to the reason I'm here, Mr. Pearce. I'll be doing an initial assessment of your mother's health status today. Once that's been accomplished, I'd like to speak with you about my findings and recommendations."
Eddie moved closer to the doorway.
As if on cue, the woman in the bed began to thrash about. Marsha stepped quickly to her side. "Mrs. Pearce, it's okay. I'm the visiting nurse."
Gertrude's movement stilled. She stared up at the nurse like a baby bird from the bottom of the nest.
"Does Eddie know you're here?"
Marsha looked to where Eddie had been standing. A car door slammed outside the window. Pushing aside the curtains, she watched an orange Datsun streak away.
Stretch the truth but don't lie.
"He knows why I'm here."
She pulled a straight-backed chair next to the bed, gently lifted her patient's hand and laid her own beneath it.
She'd spent a decade as a psychiatric nurse. Eddie's behaviour revealed anti-social tendencies and a stunted ego. She quickly resolved in her mind to find out what was happening in this home.
"Mrs. Pearce, I'm going to try very hard not to hurt you. I'll be checking your vital signs first, then I'll have to move you a bit to look at your pressure sore. Do I have your permission to do that?"
Gertrude Pearce lifted an arm covered with bruises and pointed to a shining pink object hanging from her bed post.
"I need my rosary. You can examine me after you give me my rosary. Mother Mary watches over me when Eddie isn't around."
Marsha removed the rosary from where it dangled against the wooden bedpost. It appeared to be rose quartz. She pressed it into Gertrude's palm.
"I have hundreds of these." The old woman kissed the cross. "This is the prettiest one Eddie's ever given me. He said a very special lady gave it to him just before she died."