Mission Hill by Pamela Wechsler is the debut novel from this former criminal prosecutor and television writer (Law and Order) (Available May 3, 2016).
Abby Endicott is chief of the District Attorney’s homicide unit in Boston, where she investigates and prosecutes the city’s most dangerous killers. A member of Beacon Hill’s elite, and a graduate of the Winsor school and then Harvard Law, the prosecutor’s office is not the prestigious job that would have been expected of her. She has been known to change into an evening gown amidst bodies in the morgue. She loves her job, and is committed to it, refusing all pressure to quit from her upper-crust parents or threats from the city’s most ruthless killers. But among Abby’s many secrets is her longtime affair with fellow prosecutor Tim Mooney, a married father of one.
One night, Abby is awakened very late by a phone call from her favorite detective, who reports that there has been a horrific murder but is vague about the specifics. When she arrives at the crime scene and discovers the identity of the victim, Abby knows the terror and tragedy are only beginning.
I’m in bed, silently reciting their names. Number one, Lester Beale, stabbed his girlfriend twenty-six times. Number two, Jeffrey Younts, shot a fifteen-year-old boy as he stepped off the school bus. Number three, Omar Monteiro, gunned down twin brothers on their thirtieth birthday. This is my nighttime ritual. I count killers, the people I’ve prosecuted for murder.
My list contains twenty-six names. It’s arranged in chronological order and reaches back four years. It used to include victims, the people who fuel my addiction to the job and keep me coming back for more. When my homicides climbed into double digits, there were too many names to remember. Someone had to go, either predator or prey. Reluctantly, I let go of my victims, held on to my killers. I had to. That’s the whole point. They remember me, so I have to remember them.
Many of my victims’ names have blurred, but I’ll never forget their faces. Number four, Devon Williams, smashed the life out of his son. The boy was fifteen months old. He had big brown eyes, pudgy cheeks, and weighed all of twenty-two pounds. When paramedics brought him to the morgue, there was blood spatter on the front of his Tony the Tiger onesie.
When I reach number five, Rodney Quirk, who shot his cousin at point-blank range, I feel a familiar jolt of anxiety. My heart pounds as the beginning of a panic attack takes hold. I sit up and remind myself to breathe, knowing that it will pass.
Rodney is the reason I started my list. He strapped a vest onto the chest of a ten-year-old, grabbed a fully loaded .357, and pulled the trigger. Turned out, the vest wasn’t bulletproof. He was charged with first-degree murder, but my only eyewitness got cold feet, and the case fell apart.
Now Rodney is my silent stalker, part of my daily routine. Every morning he takes up his perch in the window of a coffee shop across from the courthouse. He sits, stone-faced, and watches me stride by on my way to work, hugging my Prada tote. He’s never confronted me—not yet—but he wants to remind me that he’s there, thinking about me.
It would be easy to avoid him. I could enter the rear of the building with the judges and prisoner vans, but that would signal defeat. I don’t want him to know I’m afraid. I don’t want anyone to know I’m afraid. Besides, this way, I can keep track of him. We can both know where the other one is. There’s only one thing scarier than seeing Rodney in that window every morning—not seeing him, wondering where he is and what he’s up to.
I steady my breathing and reach for the bottle of ginger ale that I keep on my bedside table. As the warm, spicy soda trickles down the back of my throat, I let go of Rodney and move on to numbers six and seven, Jimmy Franklin and Roosevelt Prince, drug deal gone bad.
The phone chirps, startling me. I grab it, catching it between the first and second rings. There’s no need to check the name on the display. A phone call at 3:00 A.M. can be only one thing: someone in Boston has been murdered.
I leave the warmth of my bed and draw the curtains. Outside, the moon is full, illuminating wide streaks of ice on the Charles, the river that divides Boston and Cambridge. The view stretches all the way to Winthrop House, the dorm where I lived as an undergrad at Harvard.
I put my hand over the phone and cough, trying to clear the remnants of panic from my throat.
“Abby Endicott, homicide,” I say.
“You catching tonight?” Kevin says.
Boston police detective Kevin Farnsworth is not one to waste time with pleasantries. He’s rough around the edges but has earned the respect of everyone he deals with, from the rank and file on the street to the judges on the bench. He’s old-school, a cop who commands with competence.
We met over a decade ago, when I was a rookie assistant district attorney and he had just earned his detective’s shield. Over the years, we forged an unspoken agreement; he gives me first dibs on his murder investigations, and, whenever possible, I accept.
“What do you have?” I hope he can’t detect the dryness in my voice.
“You got a cold or something?” he says.
“I’m fine,” I lie.
“You sound like a frog.”
I used to worry that Kevin’s bluntness would be off-putting to jurors, but it’s the opposite. People trust him. The fact that he’s six two with 0 percent body fat doesn’t hurt. More than once, a female grand juror asked about his marital status. He’s been happily married for sixteen years and four months. Not that I’m counting.
“I’m gonna swing by and get you,” he says.
My antenna goes up. “Since when do you shuttle prosecutors to crime scenes?”
“I can be there in twelve minutes.” He’s all business. “I’m just leaving Doyle’s.”
“There was a murder at Doyle’s?”
Located in Jamaica Plain, about five miles from my Back Bay condo, Doyle’s is an unlikely place for a homicide. It’s the bar of choice for police and prosecutors, a traditional Irish pub where you can order a pint of Guinness with your breakfast. The walls are lined with autographed black and whites of local celebrities—who, in Boston, are athletes and politicians. Distress calls are a rarity, maybe an occasional drunken brawl, but there are plenty of off-duty cops on-site to handle that type of thing.
“Doyle’s is the last place the vic was seen alive,” Kevin says. “They found the body a couple of blocks away.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I don’t need an escort. I’ll meet you there.”
“If you’re trying to convince me that you’re not high maintenance, that ship sailed three years ago when you showed up at that shooting in Roxbury wearing a ball gown and high heels.”
“I told you, it was a family thing, my parents’ fortieth anniversary party.”
“My folks celebrated theirs at the VFW hall in Allston.”
“When Chris Sarsfield is catching, I bet you don’t offer him a ride.”
“Suit yourself,” he says. “The crime scene is behind the tow lot, off Joan Drive. Meet me at the perimeter—there’s something I want to talk to you about before you jump in.”
“What’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you when I see you.”
Kevin tends to keep his own counsel, but not about cases we’re working together.
“You’re starting to freak me out.”
“Do yourself a favor and stay off the Internet.”
I grab my iPad and log on to boston.com, the best source for local news, but I can’t find anything about a murder in Jamaica Plain.
“Is the victim still at the scene?”
If there’s no hope for survival, the victim is left undisturbed until the medical examiner arrives. Otherwise, he’s rushed to a hospital—usually Boston Medical Center—where emergency room doctors work miracles these days. Many insiders believe the real reason for the decline in the murder rate isn’t community policing or social engineering—it’s improved urgent care.
My mind races. “Are there any suspects?”
“Not yet,” he says. “I’m onto you—you’re trying to keep me on the horn long enough to drag something out of me, but it’s not going to work.”
Kevin knows my Achilles’ heels, the cases that upset me most, and he’s protecting me from something. I imagine the worst. Maybe the victim was burned or decapitated. Maybe there are two victims, or three. Or maybe the victim is a baby.
He reels off directions, and I jot down the street names. After I hang up, I check Twitter and a couple of local TV websites but come up empty. Trying to stave off a full-blown anxiety attack, I go into the bathroom and focus on my routine. Brush my teeth. Apply blush, mascara, and lip color. Not too much—it’s bad form to arrive at a crime scene looking like I wasted time with makeup.
I rush back into the bedroom and slip into my standard homicide response outfit, a black sweater and black pants. It’s both reverential and stylish, suitable for any funereal occasion. Homicide prosecutors never have to worry about making a good impression on clients—they’re all dead. But there are survivors—friends and family. Our first meeting is important. We’ll spend the next year together. They’ll tell me about their loved one’s life, and I’ll tell them about his death.
My boyfriend, Ty Clarke, is in the living room, sprawled out on the beige leather sofa, wrapped in the burgundy mohair throw that my parents picked up on their recent trip to Scotland. The sofa can barely contain Ty’s muscular six-foot frame. His sinewy forearm dangles over the edge. His deep-brown complexion is flawless, the softest skin I’ve ever touched. Openmouthed, he’s breathing deeply, pretending to be asleep.
The skunky smell of marijuana fills the room. Ty must have been smoking a joint and stubbed it out when he heard the phone ring. Usually, he goes out on the terrace to get high, and I pretend not to notice. It’s one of the games we play.
Ty and I have been together for a little less than a year. He’s unlike anyone I’ve ever been with before: unpretentious, undemanding, and lighthearted. For our first date, he took me to Anchovies, a hole-in-the-wall not far from my Back Bay apartment. We quickly discovered that we both like mussels fra diavolo, full-bodied red wine, and early Miles Davis. Besides that, we have almost nothing in common. I waited the obligatory three dates before taking him home and screwing him on the living room couch, the one he’s fake snoring on now.
What began as a string of one-night stands has slowly evolved into a relationship, and recently, he’s been spending most nights here. His apartment is a few miles away, across the river in Somerville. It’s not uninhabitable, just bare bones. He has a couch and a bed, but nothing frivolous like a kitchen table. Even though my apartment is over two thousand square feet, with plenty of closet space, I haven’t offered him a place to store more than a toothbrush and a change of clothes. He never pushes, which is one of the reasons we’ve lasted this long.
Committing to a partner is not my strong suit. I came close with one man, and it was devastating when he chose someone else. Heartbreak is a predictable part of my workday, and I do everything I can to avoid it at home. It’s easier to commit to dead strangers than to risk pain with living, breathing human beings.
The bottom of my coat closet is lined with an assortment of shoes: stilettos, wedges, sneakers, flats. I rummage around and select a pair of sensible black pumps. There’s no predicting how far I’ll have to walk or what I’ll be stepping on. Mud, gravel, viscera.
Ty starts to stir. “Is that you, babe?”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
He sits up and wipes invisible sleep from his eyes. “Where are you off to?”
“Jamaica Plain.” I put on my coat and double-wrap a scarf around my neck.
“I’ll walk you to your car.”
“That’s okay, I’m in a hurry. Don’t get up.”
Ty stands, steps into a pair of cowboy boots, and throws on a leather jacket. I grab my tote, and we head out the door.
Copyright © 2016 Pamela Wechsler.
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Pamela Wechsler grew up in the Boston area and is a graduate of Tufts University and Boston University School of Law. After spending years as a criminal prosecutor at the local, state and federal levels, she moved to Los Angeles, where she spent seven years as a legal consultant and writer for network television shows, including:Law and Order; Law and Order: Criminal Intent; Law and Order: Trial by Jury; Conviction; and Canterbury's Law.