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Mystery, Columbine, Marine Corps, High School, Police, White Supremacist, Detective,
Football, Addiction, Crime, Suspense, Murder, Blackmail, Conspiracy, Detective, Drugs

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 The Legend


September, 1862


The petite woman draped in oversized black robes stood on a makeshift wooden scaffolding shivering in the biting cold, her face a mask of fear and remorse; a frightened child masquerading as an adult. Forlorn and helpless, she awaited her fate; death by hanging.

A military tribunal convicted her of treason for spearheading a brazen escape attempt from a Confederate prisoner of war camp located within the granite walls of Fort Warren, an island bastion guarding the entrance to Boston Harbor.

The tragic saga began when the eighteen-year-old newlywed, disguised as a man, slipped into the fort to rescue her husband, a Confederate cavalry officer. In a driving rain, and choppy seas, she steered a small dinghy a mile alone from the tip of the Hull peninsula to the massive fortress. A merchant, and southern sympathizer, who delivered rations to the island, had smuggled in a note alerting the prisoners of the date and time she planned to arrive.

Once reunited with her husband and his comrades, she outlined a daring plan; dig a tunnel to the arsenal in the center of the compound, obtain weapons, overpower the garrison, and flee or capture the vital fort for the Confederacy.

Older veterans, content to ride out the war in a safe place run by a benevolent commandant, scoffed at the idea. They refused to risk getting killed or maimed in a preposterous venture proposed by a would-be Joan of Arc. Their skepticism was not shared by a handful of younger men eager to rejoin the struggle for independence.

But the skeptics proved right. The plan unraveled not long after work began on a tunnel. A vigilant sentry detected a noise beneath his feet, warned his comrades and led an armed detail to intercept the escapees. In the ensuing melee, the woman’s unreliable percussion revolver, which she had brought to aid the breakout, exploded, killing her beloved.

The looming execution angered the rebel prisoners assembled in a staggered U-configuration around the scaffolding. Many glowered, others paced with fists clenched, some kept their eyes riveted to the ground. A detachment of Union troopers stood between them and the gallows with rifles at the ready, bayonets fixed, prepared to thwart any interference. Most of the soldiers, young trainees who had never fired their guns in anger, were as fearful as the Confederates were irate.

The commandant’s sympathetic gesture to grant the woman’s request to be hanged as a woman---she wore black monk’s garments he found among the props used for on-site theater productions---did not soothe the enraged prisoners. Sensing a revolt, Colonel Justin Dimick, placed a hood over her head and gave the signal that sent the woman plunging to her death. She was buried in an unmarked grave in an undisclosed location on the island.

*  *  *

The hanging of a southern belle on an isolated fort in the waters of Boston Harbor might have become an overlooked footnote in the chaos of the Civil War, but for the actions of wily veterans who seized on a widespread belief at the time that the spirits of the dead “survived” and could communicate to the living, sometimes in strange ways.

To keep the memory of the hanging alive, and no doubt to scare young recruits, they spun tales of having heard and seen a mysterious form, shrouded in black, scurrying through the tunnels of the fort moaning and crying for her dead husband. Some reported objects in their barracks moved without reason; lanterns blew out when no wind existed. Footsteps appeared in the snow coming from nowhere and ending at the site where the gallows once stood; evidence of a life-force among them.

Nineteen-year-old Private Alfred Turner, a new Union recruit, was mesmerized by such stories. Turner grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, listening to town elders regale children with descriptions of witches, demons and ghosts. It wasn’t a stretch for him to believe the spirit of a wronged woman haunted the fort.

On a frigid December night, three months after the execution, he marched along the parapet above the parade ground, one of two sentries on watch. An hour after midnight, the temperature hovered around thirty degrees and an icy wind drove Turner to dip his chin into the top of his overcoat as he completed his rounds. To him, the howling gusts sounded ominous, like the wailing of a wounded creature. He ducked for shelter, and safety, behind one of the massive 15-inch Rodman guns deployed on the fort’s walls for defense.

After several minutes, Turner regained his nerve, and jumped out from behind his hiding place. Rifle cocked; he barked a challenge to stop to a menacing shape floating towards him. When the “thing” ignored his warning, the terrified youngster fired.

“Jesus Christ, Turner,” the other sentry shouted as a .58 caliber mini ball whistled past his ear. “Are you crazy?”

Turner stared dumbfounded and shaking, his terror replaced by shame and humiliation. He escaped being court-martialed when his pal agreed to support his claim that he tripped and his musket discharged.

Though Turner’s actions were those of an innocent youth motivated by fear, the incident was twisted to confirm reports that the spirit of a grief-stricken lady stalked the island, and when angered, even attacked a soldier. Over one-hundred years later, the fable, by then entrenched in New England folklore, muddled a murder investigation, and bewildered a cynical detective struggling to make sense of bizarre occurrences that saved his life.




Republic of Vietnam, 1970





Shadows, dancing in the moonlight or in the grey glare of flares under the jungle canopy, tricked the mind. Every tree, vine or piece of scrub could morph into the enemy at any time. Take chances with shadows and you might die.

On some nights the shadows became Vietcong guerrillas emerging from the undergrowth to kill, maim and harass the Marines defending the local village. Casualties mounted. Fear engulfed the defenders like a fog choking, blinding. But one Marine, a seventeen-year old lance corporal, frustrated, angry, overcame his fear and resolved to act. Marines were trained to attack. He would attack and use the shadows to his advantage.

After dark each night, with the knowledge of the sentries, but not his platoon commander, he slipped out of his platoon’s perimeter and crawled under the razor wire into the darkness to blend with the shadows. Concealed in the dense foliage, he waited; his face blackened, a sharpened K-bar and 45-caliber pistol strapped to his belt. The first night a four-man sapper squad crept toward his position intent on breaching the Marine line and detonating their explosives. He slit the throat of each man from behind, last man first, as they slithered by single file. They never saw him, never heard him.

Every night for over a month, he hid himself until daylight springing on the enemy without warning if they showed up, lying still when they didn’t. He killed twenty-five men before the attacks stopped. Mere mortals couldn’t fight such a being, a phantom lurking in the shadows. The Vietcong called him MA—Ghost.

The lance corporal was decorated for his daring forays, but the experience changed him. He became reclusive, seldom ate. His uniform hung on his slender frame like a sack. His eyes betrayed his inner turmoil, dark, penetrating, wild like those of an animal prepared to strike.

His appearance and demeanor shocked his lieutenant who worried the Ghost had become a stone cold killer. On the lieutenant’s recommendation, the young marine received a battlefield promotion to sergeant and was sent home to rest.

Scuttlebutt, of course, followed him. Stories of his exploits swept through the Corps. Veterans of the war regarded him with awe, as did eager recruits undergoing the rigors of boot camp, his bravery and daring the epitome of Esprit de Corps.

Yet the newly promoted sergeant did not revel in his acclaim. He realized how close he had come to crossing a line from which there was no return. The killing came easy after a while. He vowed never again to let rage consume him and believed nothing would provoke him to revisit that line or those shadows.

He was wrong.


hapter 1

Pacific City, California

November 2002



She was every boy’s dream, every man’s fantasy; a bronzed California girl, angelic face, sun bleached blond hair cascading to her shoulders. Only her pale blue eyes revealed sadness born of experience that neither her looks nor youthful bravado could hide.

She sat on the couch, legs splayed, skirt hiked to mid-thigh, the top two buttons of her blouse unfastened. She smiled and patted the seat cushions beside her. “Come sit next to me, Jeffrey,” she coaxed.

Her therapist, forty-one year old Jeffrey Palmer, PhD, forced a smile. Advances from attractive patients were common. Addicts would do anything to avoid facing their demons, even a seventeen year-old high school cheerleader. He accepted her as a patient because of the nature of her addiction, rare in one so young. He hoped successfully treating her might lead to a journal article to enhance his professional standing.

“Sitting next to you won’t help us resolve your problem,” he said in a calm, dispassionate tone.

“I don’t have a problem,” the girl said, crossing her arms and twisting her mouth into her best effort at a scowl.

“Your parents don’t agree.”

“My parents are out of it. To them smoking a joint makes me a hard core doper.”

“They didn’t bring you here for smoking a joint,” Palmer said, his voice composed, clinical.

She scooted to the edge of the couch, her dress sliding over her hips exposing her panties. “What did they tell you?”

Palmer’s gaze fell to the patch of white before he caught himself. She was not being seductive now. Her attitude had changed, her swagger gone.

“They told me everything,” he lied, his eyes locked on hers. “They love you and want to help you.”

The color drained from the girl’s face. She brushed a dangling strand of hair from her forehead, wrapped her tanned arms around herself, remained like that for a minute or two, then recovered, thrusting her chin toward Palmer, challenging, arrogant. Her parents would never reveal the truth.

“They didn’t tell you everything,” she said. “Not everything.”





The priest and the assassin began their careers on the same day in cities over two thousand miles apart, in two different countries. The priest was twenty-six years old, the assassin fifteen, a Sicaritos, teenage killer for hire. The priest was chosen because of his piety and devotion to Christ, the assassin because he was desperate and expendable. One entered his profession with pomp and circumstance, the other hidden in shadows.

The priest, John Francis O’Shea, was ordained in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in South Boston, the mother church of the Archdiocese, in a Mass resplendent with pageantry and steeped in centuries of tradition. The congregation embraced O’Shea and his fellow “ordinands” —candidates for the priesthood— and sought heavenly protection and guidance for them. Their voices echoed through the cavernous church as they chanted the Litany of the Saints: Holy Mary, pray for us, Saint Peter, pray for us, Saint Paul, pray for us, Christ, hear us, All you holy men and women, saints of God, intercede for us…

Light streamed through the ornate stained glass windows of the Cathedral, reflected off the massive gothic arches and settled on the four white robed young men lying prone before the altar, a sign, perhaps, sanctifying the chosen ones.

In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico no such divine signal anointed the assassin and his cohorts. The former heroin addict and street urchin waited in an alley with two other young hit men to ambush a local police commander who had rebuffed a cartel’s effort to add him to their payroll. Rats the size of cats scurried across the feet of the terrified boys and flies buzzed and pummeled their faces. One boy gagged as the stench of rancid meat and rotting fruit assailed his nostrils.

In the pristine Holy Cross Cathedral an aroma more inviting to churchgoers hung in the air—a mixture of lingering incense, burning candles, flowers, furniture wax and perfume. The ceremony progressed as each ritual brought the candidates closer to ordination. They knelt before Cardinal Bernard Law, Archbishop of Boston, who laid hands on the head of each young man in turn, a gesture signifying the transfer of the power of the priesthood from the Cardinal to the “ordinands.” John Francis O’Shea beamed with pride at the Cardinal’s touch. At peace, with no reservations, he was committed, through the vow of celibacy, to lead a chaste life devoted to the service of Christ.

In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, only the passing of time moved the assassin nearer to his goal. Rudolpho Gonzales, the oldest of the three Sicoritos, rested his hands on the shoulders of his two co-conspirators. No allocation of power; a simple act to calm them. Gonzales, though more experienced than the others had, to this point, never killed anyone. Trained in the jungles bordering Guatemala, he had participated in gun battles with rival gangs and even the Mexican Army, ordeals that hardened him to the dangers ahead. His brown, deep-set eyes were vacant, not so much unafraid as uncaring.

His companions shivered, though it was not cold, and shifted their weight from one leg to the other, excited but fearful. A puddle of yellow liquid formed at the foot of one boy whose eyes darted from Rudolpho to the end of the alley as if seeking comfort or a route of escape.

“You’ll be okay,” Rudolpho whispered and encircled the boy’s shoulders with his arm. He took a deep breath and puffed out his chest in a display of bravado. “Soon you will be famous, respected. Get all the chicas you want. Follow me. Shoot and keep shooting till you can shoot no more.”

In the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the ordination rite reached the point where the “ordinands” were officially priests. Cardinal Law draped the men with the vestments required to celebrate Mass—the stole and colorful poncho-like chasuble. As he did so, he intoned in a stentorian voice: “Take these vestments of the priesthood which signify charity; for God will anoint you with charity and perfection.”

The Sicoritos needed no official uniform to confirm their status as killers. They wore the only clothes they owned; hoodies pulled low over their eyes, dark greasy pants and black Nike running shoes with the white Swoosh on the sides. Their clothes hung on the boys as if made for someone older; each was malnourished, their growth stunted, their faces gaunt. They struggled to hold the Uzi submachine guns they carried although each weapon weighed just a little over seven pounds.

In the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Cardinal Law, wearing a Mitre on his head and holding a crozier in his left hand, bent down to plant a Kiss of Peace on each kneeling newly ordained priest; this act was replicated by visiting priests attending the ceremony as they filed in front of the men, a sign of unity with their brethren in the Ministry of Christ.

In Ciudad Juarez, the police commander and his bodyguards, fueled by many margaritas during lunch at a nearby restaurant, stumbled down the road laughing and singing oblivious to danger as they approached the alley where the trio of assassins waited.

With a dip of the head signal, Rudolpho Gonzales and the two other Sicoritos charged onto the street firing their guns wildly though their intense fire struck the targets again and again. Each boy emptied his Uzi of all thirty-two rounds. One boy vomited upon seeing the blood, bone and human flesh from his victims blown into the air. Unaffected, Rudolpho and the other boy stripped the bodies of wallets, watches and other valuables.

In the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the Mass concluded, new priest, Johnny O’Shea, walked out of the church with his arms around his parents surrounded by friends and well-wishers. He ignored, or did not see, one former classmate who stood apart tears streaming down her face, grieving for what might have been. Susan Wilson, O’Shea’s high school sweetheart, resented the church for stealing her Johnny away. The knuckles of her hands turned white as she gripped the back of the pew stifling the anger seething inside, not a woman to be snubbed or betrayed.

In Ciudad Juarez, the Sicoritos bolted down the alley away from the carnage they had wrought, stumbling over mounds of garbage and sending rodents scurrying in all directions. They dropped their weapons as they ran and emerged on an avenue where they slowed to a walk and mingled with a group of shoppers. The two younger boys lengthened their steps, shocked by what they had done, impatient to get away. But Rudolpho Gonzales took slow, measured strides, emotionally drained but exhilarated by the chaos, the noise, the smell of gunpowder and the shouts and screams of his victims. He was eager to do it again.

The priest and the assassin, Johnny O’Shea and Rudolpho Gonzales, would never meet, but their lives would later intersect with deadly consequences.


Part One

Secrets and Lies


We dance round a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows.


Robert Frost

The Secret Sits


Chapter 1


Hull, Massachusetts

(Twelve years later)


The nightmares stopped years ago. The ache remained, of innocence lost, a childhood wrecked, a faith cast aside, men once admired, now despised; an escape from alcoholism no cure for the demons lurking in his subconscious.

It began with a stolen sip of wine. As an altar boy he filled the cruets used during mass to celebrate the Eucharist. He and his fellow servers tapped the bottle sometimes; just a little, to show off in front of each other, to keep a secret from their parents, from the priests.

One day, alone in the church sacristy, a small room adjacent to the altar where the celebrants dressed and prepared for mass, a priest caught him with a glass of wine in his hand. The young priest, red haired, green eyed, tall and lean, milk white complexion, soft hands, defined handsome. His intricate sermons baffled many parishioners yet he was well liked, an object of lust for adolescent girls, a role model for devout Catholic boys.

Instead of being angry when he discovered the young acolyte sneaking wine, the priest smiled, got his own glass and refilled the boy’s. He urged the youngster to sit next to him on one of the straight-backed wooden chairs used for visitors. Later that day, the boy’s memory of the encounter was hazy, but he was uncomfortable with the way the priest gestured as he spoke, sometimes touching him intimately.

He remembered subsequent incidents in the Church and at the rectory where the three priests who served the parish lived. They plied him with wine, forced him to undress and stroked and fondled him.

Later, the red-haired priest, more aggressive, hurt him. Racked with guilt, the boy blurted the details to his mother, a strict Catholic, who disbelieved him until the day he came home crying and bleeding. The skeptical police took a report but embraced the pastor’s claim, which dismissed the child’s tale as pure fantasy. No action was taken.

Traumatized, the youngster never set foot in church again. Anger consumed him. Sleepless nights drained his energy. He drank to excess, experimented with drugs. Only after years of therapy did he understand the blame rested with his abusers, not him. He had done nothing to encourage the priest’s advances. He blocked the memories most of the time yet often became anxious, restless. At those times he found solace at the old fort, less than a mile from his home. At night, he would sit on the picnic benches and stare at the lights on a nearby island in Hull Bay or watch the beacon on Boston Light flash its signal to ships offshore. The solitude and view calmed him.

The nightmares did not resurface, but sleep came in fits and starts. His wife, a fervent Catholic, dismissed his protests and attended church faithfully. He hadn’t divulged his secret to her.

Worse, his daughter belonged to the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and often had contact with the new local priest who gave her rides home from night meetings. She once claimed he touched her inappropriately but later backed off saying she misunderstood his actions.

The man knew better. That’s how it started, with misunderstandings. The police took a report; it went nowhere as it had with him. He vowed not to let his child become a victim. The priest had to be stopped.

He went to Fort Revere often to think and plan.


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