Faye Kellerman: Prayers for the Dead

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Faye Kellerman Prayers for the Dead
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    Prayers for the Dead
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The brutal murder of Dr. Azor Sparks in an alley behind a restaurant is greeted with public outrage and a demand for swift, sure justice. But the investigation into the well-known surgeon's death is raising too many questions and providing too few answers for homicide detective Lieutenant Peter Decker. Why, for example, would the family of a man so beloved respond to his slaying with more surprise than grief? And what linked a celebrated doctor with strict fundamentalist beliefs to a gang of outlaw bikers? But the most unsettling connection of all is the one that ties the tormented Sparks family to Peter Decker's own – and the secrets shared by a renegade Catholic priest…and Decker's wife, Rina Lazarus.

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Faye Kellerman


Prayers for the Dead

The ninth book in the Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus series, 1996

To Jonathan for a quarter century of love, laughter, and just plain fun

To Jesse, Rachel, Ilana, and Aliza, the keys to my heart-thanks for putting it all in perspective

To Mom, my lifelong friend-love ya, kid

And to Rita-for all the inappropriate giggles


Prologue

“This is a team effort, Grace. You know that.”

Even through morphine-laden stupor, Grace knew that. From her hospital bed, she looked up at her doctor’s face-a study in strength. Good, solid features. A well-boned forehead, Roman nose and a pronounced chin, midnight blue eyes that burned fire, tar-black hair streaked with silver. His expression, though grave, was completely self-assured. Someone who knew what he wanted and expected to get it. Truth be told, the man looked downright arrogant.

Which was exactly the kind of doctor Grace had wanted. What she hadn’t wanted was some young stud like Ben Casey or an old fart like Marcus Welby with the crinkly eyes and the patient, understanding smile. She had wanted someone bursting with ego. Someone whose superiority was touted, worn with pride like Tiffany jewelry. A self-possession that spoke: Of course the operation is going to be successful. Because I always succeed.

Because getting a new heart was serious business.

Grace Armstrong had to have the best and the brightest. Had the luxury to afford the best and the brightest. And in Dr. Azor Moses Sparks, she had gotten numero uno.

Dope was winning the battle of wits with Grace’s brain. Sparks ’s face had lost clarity, sat behind a curtain of haze, his features becoming blurry except for the eyes. They peered through the muck like high-beam headlights. She wanted to go to sleep. But Sparks ’s presence told her she wasn’t permitted to do that…not just yet.

He spoke in authoritative, stentorian tones. The sounds bounced around Grace’s brain, words reverberating as if uttered through a malfunctioning PA system. Doctor’s voice…

“…what we have here, Grace. A team comprised of me: the primary surgeon; you: the patient; and my staff-the other fine surgeons and nurses who’ll assist me in this procedure.”

Grace liked how Dr. Sparks had emphasized his fine staff. As if he owned New Christian Hospital.

Maybe he did.

She closed her eyes, anxiety now replaced by the overwhelming need to go comatose. But Sparks wouldn’t let up.

“Grace, open your eyes. We still have uncompleted business to finish.”

Grace opened her eyes.

“We mustn’t forget someone very important,” Sparks reminded her. “The most important member of our team.”

The surgeon paused.

“Do you know who that is, Grace? Do you know whose Hands really control this entire effort?”

Grace was silent. Though groggy and heavy, she felt her ailing heart fluttering too fast. He was testing her and she was flunking. She regarded Sparks through panicky eyes. The doctor smiled, gently patted her hand. The gesture reassured her immensely.

Sparks pointed upward. Grace’s eyes followed the narcotic-induced flickering path of the surgeon’s index finger.

Respectfully, Sparks said, “We mustn’t forget Him.”

“God?” Grace was breathless.

“Yes, Grace.” Sparks nodded. “We mustn’t forget our holy, heavenly Father.”

Grace spoke, her words barely recognizable. “Believe me, Dr. Sparks, I’ve been praying nonstop.”

Sparks smiled. It lit up his face, gave warmth to his stern demeanor. “I’m very glad to hear that. So let us pray together, Grace. Let us both ask God for His help and for His guidance.”

The surgeon went down on his knees. At that moment, Grace thought him very odd, but didn’t comment. Sparks ’s manner suggested that the ritual wasn’t subject to debate. She closed her eyes, managed to put her hands together.

“Dear heavenly Father,” Sparks began, “be our guiding light through this time of darkness. Be a strong beacon to direct us through this upcoming storm. Show us Your mercy and Your love in its abundancy. Let Your wisdom be our wisdom. Your perfection be our perfection. Let Grace Armstrong be upmost in her fortitude. Give her strength and faith. In Your abundant love, allow me and my staff to be swift and sure-footed as we embark on another journey to heal the sick and mend the feeble.”

Grace winced inside at the word feeble.

“And now a moment of silence,” Sparks said. “You may add your own words of prayer here, Grace.”

Her own words were: Please, let me go to sleep, wake up and have this shitty ordeal behind me.

Sparks ’s eyes were still closed. Grace’s head felt leaden, her brain so woozy it threatened to shut down. She managed to make out Sparks ’s face, his lids opening. Suddenly, his eyes seemed injected with newly found vigor.

Grace liked that.

Sparks regarded his patient, swept his skilled hands over her lids, and gently closed them. “Go to sleep, Grace. Tomorrow you’ll be a new woman.”

Grace felt herself going under. No longer was her health in her hands.

It was up to Sparks.

It was up to God.

At that moment, they were one and the same.

1

The living room was dimly lit, the house motionless, reminding Decker of his divorced, bachelor days-days he’d be reliving soon if he didn’t start making it home earlier. To wit: The dining room table had been cleared-dinner long gone-and the door to Hannah’s nursery was closed, Rina nowhere in sight. Yes, she was a patient woman, but she did have limits. Decker often wondered how far she could be pushed before she’d explode on impact. Because as of yet, no one had developed a road test for wives.

He placed his briefcase on the empty table, his fingers raking through thick shocks of carrot-colored hair. Ginger came trotting in from the kitchen. Decker bent down and petted the setter’s head.

“Hi, girl. Are you happy to see me?”

Ginger’s tail wagged furiously.

“Well, someone’s glad I’m alive. Let’s go see what the crew had for dinner.”

Decker dragged himself into the kitchen, draped his jacket over an oak kitchenette chair. Rina had kept his dinner warming in the oven. He put on a quilted mitt and fished it out. Some kind of Chinese cuisine except, by now, the snow peas and broccoli were limp and khaki green, and the rice had developed a yellowish crust. At least the noodles appeared nice and crisp.

He set the dish on top of a meat place mat and took out cutlery. Washed his hands, said a quick blessing, but paused before he sat down. He noticed a light coming from under the door of his stepsons’ room. To be expected. As teens, they often went to bed later than he did. Perhaps he should say hello to the boys first.

That should take all of five minutes.

Kids had been preoccupied lately, hadn’t seemed to have much time for quality conversation. Maybe they were peeved at the late hours he’d been keeping. The more likely explanation was typical teenage behavior. His grown daughter, Cindy, had gone through sullen moments in her adolescent years. Now she was doing postgrad work back east in Criminal Sciences. A beautiful young lady who truly enjoyed his company. Ah, the passage of time…

He glanced at his withered food, eyes moving to the dog. “Don’t get any ideas. I’ll be right back.”

He knocked on the door to his sons’ room. He heard Jake ask a testy “What?” Decker jiggled the doorknob. It was locked.

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