Mark Sullivan

A second-generation homicide cop, ex-Major League baseball player, beleagured but loving father, heart-worn womanizer and renowned investigator, Seamus Moynihan figures after sixteen years on the job he’s already witnessed the worst kind of violence humans can visit upon another.

Then he’s summoned to a crime scene where the victim, a naked man, has been tied to a bed then assaulted with North America’s deadliest pit viper: an eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

Aided by a team of crack detectives, Moynihan enters a deadly world of twisted eroticism, hot herpetology, fanatical spiritual cults and ultimately the oldest mystery in the Bible, a riddle that has frustrated religious scholars for centuries: Who was the second woman, the enigmatic wife of Cain?

The naked man on the bed was dying and he had no idea why.

Moonlight filtered through sheer curtains billowing before a window next to the bed. He smelled the ocean, moaned and tried to string together thoughts. But there was neither logic nor pattern to the things that flitted through his brain now: the canopy of a lone tree silhouetted in a garden at twilight; the assured, fluid rustle of an invisible animal moving through tall grass; the rubbery tart taste of green apple; the musky redolence that hung in the air after sex. Questions came to him like raindrops: What is my name? How did I get here? What is the fire that has replaced my blood?

He asked himself all these things and could not come up with a single coherent answer; in the last hour his consciousness had been reduced to sensory fragments. No past. No future. Just terrifying blips of the now.

He was aware, for example, that his vision kept blurring yellow, then clearing and blurring again as if he had been cast adrift in a small boat in a sea storm, pelted in the eyes with salt water, able only to see the horizon when he crested the waves. His teeth chattered. His fingers, toes and scalp prickled and stung. His left thigh and right armpit felt swollen, hollow and tight, throbbing so he swore his skin might burst. Deep in his ears his own erratic heart beat backfired.

He lost the instinct to respire. It happened in an instant. Now every breath was cruel labor, a forced expansion of the chest, a deep drawing to fill the lungs. An excruciating pressure built in his skull directly behind his eyes. Scream, he thought. Scream and someone will hear you and come to help.

But he managed only an impotent blatting noise. He felt his heart stall, cough, then throttle up again, like an ill-tuned engine choking on stale diesel.

Water, he thought. Need water. He wanted to bring his hands to his mouth, so they might somehow move his tongue aside to let him swallow, but he could not; his wrists seemed anchored above and behind his head. His legs would not move either.

For a moment he faded. Then a tremendous cinching occurred inside his rib cage and he flailed back toward the shore of consciousness. Breathe. Breathe.

His vision was almost gone. Everything in the room, the bed, the ceiling, the curtains, the moonlight, seemed to submerge into a brackish yellow liquid.

Then he was aware of a presence in the liquid with him, a shadowed form that swam his way. The shadow seemed tapered, cowled, vaguely sexual. He caught the scent of caves and rotted logs emanating from somewhere within the form. That and a dry clattering noise.

"Help me," he managed to whisper.

The shadow arched and rose over him. A voice came to him as if through yards and yards of water -- "I am helping you: mark the six teens…"

The voice continued on, but the man took no heed of the confusing words. He was intent on a sudden weight against his chest, cool, slick, and writhing and the voice in the liquid became a chant heard at a distance.

Something cut jaggedly into the side of his throat. Fluid fire poured into him. He convulsed and fought for air one last time even as his mind seized on a final vision: heat lighting flashed in a night sky. Cicadas called. Owls screeched. Low menacing clouds appeared on the horizon and he waited for them on a cliff in a forest of scrub oak, pine and kudzu. The rain drops became bigger, darker, then turned to sleet. The pattern of the frozen rain became a whirlpool that spun him, then knocked him from his cliff perch and he fell in spirals into the black liquid depths.





Chapter One

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 eighteen hundred to twenty-two hundred dollars. Laundry and maid service, four hundred extra.

Mary's supervisor had called at six a.m. to tell her the regular Saturday maid was ill. Mary 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 sing-song 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 five, 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, against 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 Two

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 3-and-0 on the best hitter in the league, a brute named Rafael Quintana, who, at twelve years old, had the first shade of a moustache on his upper lip and sported shoulders that suggested his old man had been force feeding him testosterone 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.

"Bunch a 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 cut-off 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.

"Sonofabitch," 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 Lt. Anna Cleary, the watch commander. "We've got a body. County is hauling moon suits to the scene."

"Moon suits?"

"Patrol says there could be a bio-hazard. Rogers doesn't want to take any chances. Neither does the medical examiner."

"Wonderful."

"Thought I'd make your day."

"You're always kind to the downtrodden, Anna," I said.

"Only to you, Shay," she replied.

"Address?"

"Sea View Villas, La Jolla."

"Death among the brilliant, the super rich and the fleeting doyens of DNA," I said, 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 four 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 Three

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 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.

In my flashback 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 throws, 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 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 paints 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 bio-hazard 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, he served in the military. Rikko was a commando, patrolling the streets of Jerusalem during the Intafadah of the late 1980s. Afterwards, 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 P.D. 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 Hanta Virus, 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 bio-hazards 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 i.d. on the victim, Sarge," she said.

"Gimme."

"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.

Solomon scowled at her. "We'll check it out for ourselves, thank you, Detective."

I said, "Anyone know what Cook was working on at that bio-tech firm? Maybe a virus we should know about?"

"I'll get on that," Missy promised. She turned and marched off toward her car.

Rikko looked after her through the steady rain toward the yellow barrier tape on the staircase of building five. "Think there's any way you can commit suicide by Ebola?"

"Bet it happens all the time," I replied. "In Mombassa."


Chapter Four

"One small step for Moynihan," I said, pushing open the apartment door, still ajar after Mary Aboubacar's flight.

"One giant leap for America's Finest PD," Dr. Solomon chortled in return, his transmission crackley and hollow. We carried cameras, mine a Polaroid, his a Nikon.

At an ordinary death scene, Solomon and I would have been preceeded by a team of evidence experts. But this was so far from common we had decided to make a preliminary visit to evaluate what precautions we should take if Cook did die of Ebola. I reached the doorway to the bedroom. Rain poured in the open window, slanting through the room. Water puddled on the floor and peppered the mirror on the far wall. The body was on the bed.

"Christ all mighty," I muttered.

As a cop I had seen the gamut - decomposing corpses, floaters, the worst gunshots and multiple stabbings you could imagine. But I had never seen anything like this and it triggered in me a rolling vertigo I had first experienced at age ten, a sensation of being Tilt-A-Whirled, a feeling that once experienced you never, ever forget.

"Christ almighty is right," Solomon said. "Shoot him in situ before we go in."

I nodded, swallowed, called up the professional numbness necessary to deal with the situation, then flipped on the weak ceiling light over the bed and fumbled with the Polaroid. I squeezed off ten pictures while Solomon shot with the Nikon.

"As usual the light is horrible, but I think that should cover us," I said, then pointed across the room to the window. "I'm gonna get that shut."

"Don't get near anything sharp that could cut your suit," Solomon cautioned. "The latest research suggests Ebola's not airborne. But let's not take any chances."

"Believe me, Doc, I'm not making any big moves here."

The flooring was crème carpet and crunched against the sole of the booties that covered my sneakers. I moved past a pine armoire, a blue suitcase and matching computer satchel before stepping gingerly through the puddled water to the double hung window and pressing it closed. I turned, peering through the hood visor at a sopping low pine credenza below a fogged and dripping mirror. A man's toiletries kit and its partially spilled and rain-soaked contents covered the chest: Gillette shaving gel, Rogaine, Dial deodorant, Southern Nights men's cologne and an open box of Sheik condoms.

The bedsteads to either side of the wrought-iron, four-poster matched the armoire and the credenza and were topped with lamps that echoed the rusty accents on the entire set. It could have been one of those soft-lensed scenes in the Pottery Barn catalogue.

Except for the corpse.

He lay spread-eagle and nude, facing upright in the middle of the bed. The mauve top sheets, white cotton blanket and comforter were kicked back below his feet. He had the shaggy, sun-bleached hair of a surfer. His head was arched backward, his torso canted to the left, as if he had shifted against agony in his last moments. His skin was mottled black, grotesquely swollen, the distension and bruising most pronounced along his right thigh and left arm, so inflated they looked like charred quarter kegs of beer. Where the swelling was worst, the skin appeared beaded, as if decorated with scores of ruby rhinestones, most the size of dimes, but some the size of dollar pieces. At least a dozen of the beads had burst. Blood and fluid had run from the sores and dried on his arms and legs in mosaics of pale crimson water color. Tears of dried blood showed on his cheeks. Dried blood caked the oval of his slack mouth, like lipstick applied by an Alzheimer's patient. A dirty copper rivulet twisted across the white sheets from high between his legs.

On the stand to the right of the bed lay a wallet and a framed picture lying face down. I set the camera on the floor, turned the frame over and saw a handsome man in his mid thirties with a surfer's hairdo and a rugged muscular build. He sat on a rock, flanked by a pretty, plump, blonde woman, and two young children, one boy, one girl. They all wore khaki shorts and blue polo shirts. A posed professional family portrait.

I set it down and reached for the wallet. The gloves of the biohazard suit were cumbersome and the wallet's contents dumped on the floor: credit cards, business cards, membership in the Texas A & M Alumni Association, and a California driver's license, all in the same name.

"Morgan Cook, Jr., what the hell happened to you?" I muttered into the mike.

Solomon, on the other side of the corpse, now looked up at me. "Good question."

"Ms. Africa's off base with her diagnosis?"

The medical examiner's voice came crackling over my earphones. "He's bled at the major orifices; consistent with Ebola. The discoloration and obliteration of the vascular system, too. And victims of Ebola and its associated viruses often display bulla - these bubbles and beads here on the skin. He's been dead a while, probably more than a day, so some of what we're seeing is putrefaction. But what doesn't jibe with Ebola is the right leg, left arm and the head and neck."

"Okay?" I said.

"If it was Ebola, why would these appendages present such gross edema in relation to the rest of the body?" Solomon pondered. "Why wouldn't the entire body be uniformly distorted? And look at the left wrist and right ankle."

I had to shift to see exactly what he was talking about. Then I made it out -- both joints looked like the pinch points of hourglasses and the color of the skin there was the blackest and shiniest on the body. "What the hell caused that?" I asked.

Solomon pointed to the right wrist, and then the left ankle, the ones that were not as swollen, black and shiny. "Same thing that caused the three uninterrupted striations around these other joints."

"Ropes."

"As restraints," Solomon said.

Then the medical examiner leaned over to bring the face of his visor close to the blood blisters and open sores on the corpse's neck. After a moment's study, he stood and tore off the hood. "Can't see for shit with this damn thing on," he said.

I looked at him like he was nuts. "Doc, you're exposing yourself--"

"It's not Ebola, Shay," he said grimly. "This man died of envenomation."

"Envenawhat?"

"Snake bite."

"Snake bite did all this?"

Solomon nodded. "Certain kinds of venom destroys flesh and the vascular systems, much like Ebola. And it can create exactly these kind of blood blisters and swelling over time. But I've never seen anyone get hit this bad. From the looks of it, Cook was probably bitten multiple times. We'll have to go over his body with magnification to find the fang marks."

I looked from the rope abrasions to the drum-like swellings on Cook's body and felt myself take another ride on the mental Tilt-a-Whirl. "What kind of twisted bastard gets someone naked, ties them up, then releases a snake on their body?"

"You're the homicide genius of San Diego, my friend. You tell me."
The Serpent’s Kiss pulls you guts first right through to the back cover. I loved this book.”
–Nelson DeMille
I used to be an investigative reporter in San Diego, and one day in my office I recalled that the police department in the nation's sixth-largest city investigates homicide differently than any other major metropolitan law enforcement agency. Where New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and most other big city police departments assign two detectives whenever an unexplained body turns up, San Diego rolls in with a team of five: a supervising sergeant and four supporting homicide detectives.

This unorthodox, swarming approach to death investigations works. San Diego often boasts the highest solve rate in the nation. Why not write about one of those teams?

I began to doodle on a piece of paper at my desk, and, to my surprise, very quickly the character of Seamus Moynihan, the supervising sergeant took shape as an ex-major league pitcher, a second generation cop, a beleaguered but loving father, a divorced, heart-worn womanizer and brilliant homicide detective.

As I took more notes, and grew more excited, Moynihan literally began to speak in my head, telling me about his childhood, about playing for the Boston Red Sox, about being the son of a murdered police officer whose slaying was never solved, about the scars that that loss had inflicted upon him.

Only one other time has this sort of disconcerting experience happened in my writing career: During the early drafts of The Purification Ceremony, Diana Jackman, an expert tracker and the story's heroine, began to speak to me in much the same way. Having someone else's voice start barking in your head is a bizarre experience. For the majority of people, it would be cause for a one-way ticket to the funny farm.

But as a writer I've found that it's an energizing, almost ecstatic creative experience, one that occurs only once in a great while, and when it does, you're smart to go with it. So I did, in effect, taking dictation from Moynihan over the course of two weeks as he told me his life story leading up to his promotion to homicide sergeant.

I wrote ten to fifteen hours a day, and by the end of the first week, it was if I'd known the man for years. Moynihan played ball in Fenway Park, where I’d worked summers as a kid selling souvenirs. As a homicide detective, he has an unorthodox style coupled with strong investigative instincts, yet he was not a prima-donna. He cares about the people who work for him, indeed believes that in many ways that they are better cops than he is. His relationship with his son, his mother, his sister, his ex-wife are all seriously flawed, mostly due to his actions. But the thing about the guy is he is genuinely trying to be a better man. Always. He doesn't always succeeds, but he's always trying.

Now about two years prior to all this babbling in the head stuff, I was fooling around with some files I keep filled with notes that might somehow be developed into future novels. It's something I often do late in the day, after the serious writing on the project of the moment is complete and I can relax a bit and let my mind play.

Anyway, just as dusk came on that night, a phrase forced its way into my thoughts: "The Second Woman."

I had no idea what it meant, but I wrote the words down and stared at them. There in the shadowy light a series of vivid images flashed through me. Some were frankly erotic, others were frankly frightening, all of them sparking off in my noggin as a result of those three words: The Second Woman.

But what did they mean?

It occurred to me that we all know who the first woman was: Eve, at least according to Judeo-Christian thought.

But who was the second woman? I trotted over to my handy King James and discovered this reference: "And Cain went out and lived in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden, and Cain knew his wife. . ."

"This can't be the only reference to her," I thought. "She's not even named."

I tracked down a man named Jonathan Kirsch, an attorney and author of several books about the Bible. When I asked him about the second woman, he said, "No one knows who she is, where she came from. She's the oldest mystery in the Bible."

Saying something like that to someone like me is like waving the red cape in front of the bull. Hanging up the phone, I was pounding forward at the cape, knowing with certainty that I'd write a mystery about the oldest mystery in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

For nearly two years I gathered string about the second woman, reading different theories about her identity, studying her history in literature and philosophy. But try as I might I could not figure how her story fit in a modern setting.

Then Sergeant Moynihan saw the file and told me.