Riley Pickett

"Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things."

Carrie Johnston woke up with a start. She was certain she'd heard the noise again. Her typically quiet home was unusually unsettled this night. At first, she'd convinced herself that all she heard was a tree branch knocking against the window, nothing more. Then, the noise had come again, crashing down from the roof, erasing any hope of sleep. Carrie reached for her cell phone, which had been sitting on the nightstand beside her. She pressed a random key and the screen glowed to life. Down in the lower left-hand corner, the time displayed. 3:33 AM.


Again, the noise came. She rose from the warmth and safety of bed and peered through her bedroom window to see a clear night sky, illuminated by a full moon. The trees all stood still in the night, no wind present to blow their branches about. She tried to ignore the knot in her stomach that continued to clench as she realized her previous rationalizations were now useless. Heart in her throat, Carrie crept towards her dresser in search of something - anything - with which to defend herself. Her feet sank into the plush carpet and her steps seemed to be covered in sticky molasses as if she couldn't walk fast enough. Her mind flashed to the knives she had washed after chopping and dicing vegetables for her evening pot of soup. If only she could make it to the kitchen…

Turning towards her bedroom door to make her way down the hallway to arm herself, she stopped. She heard a sickening noise, one that twisted her insides and sent her heart into desperate palpitations. Perhaps she was going crazy, but Carrie could swear she heard footsteps making their way down the hallway.

She couldn't even draw in a breath to scream when she reached down for the doorknob and realized it was already twisting. Someone was here, and they were about to enter her bedroom. A terror as old as life itself gripped her. She was not fast enough to run away, not strong enough to fight. Carrie never had any desire to be athletic, and now, it would be her undoing. Oh, God, why her? Why now?

The door swung open and a figure clad in all black came forward. All Carrie could see was black from head to toe – black shoes, black pants, black long-sleeved shirt, black gloves, and a black mask. The intruder was slight and thin, not very tall in stature, but likely muscled and strong. Judging by the curves that Carrie could barely make out by the pale moonlight thrown against the intruder's frame, Carrie guessed that her intruder was female.

She took two hesitant, off-balanced steps backwards, not daring to breathe, as the intruder entered the room and came ever closer. Carrie's breath caught in her throat and adrenaline coursed through her veins. A pounding in her head nearly obscured the small, but powerful voice of the intruder.

"Carrie Johnston," a soft voice purred. Carrie felt her heart miss a beat of its frantic rhythm as the intruder reached down to her belt and produced a syringe filled with a clear liquid.

"Do you know what your sin is?" the intruder asked, moving forward. Carrie turned on her heel and scrambled to get back to the nightstand to reach her cell phone. If only she could keep the intruder at bay long enough to call 911! At that moment, Carrie tripped over a discarded towel, still damp from her evening shower almost six hours prior. Her ankles twisted around the fabric tossed haphazardly on the floor. Carrie's arms flew out in an attempt to pull herself onto the bed and over to where the cell phone would be within arm's reach.

The assailant lunged for Carrie's right calf and gripped it forcefully. Carrie kicked in vain, as the other woman's fingers dug in ever deeper to secure their grip. The intruder carefully held Carrie's flailing body still as she took the syringe and plunged the needle deep into Carrie's thigh. Carrie could feel hot tears stinging at the corners of her eyes as she pleaded hysterically for her life. The grip on her leg loosened temporarily; Carrie attempted to scramble away.

Carrie was quickly losing grip on reality. A dense, thick fog settled into the bedroom as the walls began to melt and explode into gooey, green substances. Time seemed to slow and the earth suddenly bent around her, a twisting fun-house mirror room gone wrong. Everywhere Carrie turned, her mind was swimming and disoriented. She attempted to reach for the lamp to throw it at the intruder and dash for the kitchen, but as she extended her arm, she couldn't decide which lamp to grab. All six lamps were mocking her, laughing at her inability to choose the correct one. Carrie swatted at the lamps in vain as they continued their taunts.

The unwelcome guest had carefully placed the syringe back in her belt and instead, had produced a white cloth dress, a simple frock that had been with mud and refuse. The purity of humanity had now been stained by sin, and had made many unworthy to stand in the presence of God, the Most High. Now, the only thing they deserved was to be put to death and purged from the world so holiness and purity could reclaim the creation for the Creator.

All of Carrie's instincts were telling her to run far away from the one who now approached her with the soiled white dress. Still, she could muster no strength to resist as she was undressed her from her nightgown and replaced it with the dirty shroud. Carefully, and with gentle fingers, the intruder posed Carrie on her knees, hands folded delicately on her lap. Her plump, round face with typically rosy cheeks seemed aglow in silver moonlight as crystal streams of tears rolled down her face. Carrie Johnston knew she was going to die. Yet, she couldn't find the strength to resist it.

The all-black woman produced a sleek pistol from the holster at her hip and loaded a fresh clip. Switching off the safety, Carrie heard the tell-tale click of a mechanized weapon. She closed her eyes in resignation as she felt the cold metal barrel of the pistol press gently against her forehead.

"Do you know what your sin is, Carrie Johnston?" the intruder asked once more. Carrie shook her head; an almost imperceptible answer of 'no.' The intruder looked heavenward, as if waiting for a form of divine approval.

The angel of death looked back down at Carrie's face. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she closed her eyes in resignation, waiting for the inevitable kiss of death to reach her lips, burning them with its hot coal to purify the creation and remove the filth of the world.

"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned," the intruder breathed.

The shot of a gun roared through Carrie's existence, screaming forward with shrieking blackness as the burning of a thousand fires screamed through her brain. Then, suddenly… nothing, bursting forward into marvelous white light.

Detective Rebecca Singer was standing in one of a thousand downtown Manhattan coffee shops when her cell phone vibrated in her pocket. She reached into the deep pockets of her long black coat and retrieved the buzzing Blackberry, holding up the phone to read the number displayed on the screen. She sat her cappuccino and down clicked the "receive" button.

"Singer," she snapped into the phone, pressing the phone to her ear with her shoulder as she continued to stir a low-calorie sweetener packet into the foamy espresso beverage. Carefully, she snapped a lid onto the coffee cup and balanced her bagel atop the lid, holding her breakfast in one hand, and phone in the other.

"We've got another one," Detective Richard Glenn reported. Rebecca couldn't help but wince. She automatically knew what Glenn meant. Three weeks ago, Carrie Johnston's body had been found in her home in Queens. The case had only grown exponentially from there.

"Where?" Rebecca asked, setting her drink and bagel on the roof of her red Chevy Impala, opening the door and climbing in the vehicle.

"A high-rise apartment downtown," Glenn stated, shuffling papers in the background. "I'll text you the address. I assume you're going there first?"

"It's my case."

"You know this makes three, right?"

Rebecca winced, setting her cappuccino in the cup holder. She didn't need the reminder that a serial killer was stalking the greater Manhattan region, and the NYPD couldn't come up with any leads to which they could cling. The only trace was that the killer's motivation seemed to be a fight against sin. But whose sin exactly? That was the question that no one seemed to be able to answer.

At first, they'd thought it was just a hate crime. Carrie Johnston, a poor woman enrolled in a culinary institute, who was a few pounds plumper than most due to her love for fine foods, wines and cooking. They'd found her dressed in a stained white shroud, lying on her bed, positioned there after being shot through the forehead at point-blank range. The final bow on the package of the presentation was the word "gluttony," painted in thick, red, hasty brushstrokes on the wall above the headboard. It was enough to make people sick and enflamed local civilians who saw the images on their living room televisions; another routine report of violence sanitized from its grotesque truth.

The second was undeniably related, but also thought to be a hate crime. Morgan Price, a twenty-one year old college dropout, with plans to return to school for completion of her business administration degree was found dead just seven days after Carrie Johnston. Morgan had been an unmistakably beautiful woman who had taken dance lessons growing up. As a student, she turned to employment as an exotic dancer in order to save money to return to school. She had assured her parents this was a temporary fix and one of the only places that would offer employment during the economic downturn. She had been found in the same manner as Carrie, bullet through the forehead, then dressed in a stained white shroud and placed upon her bed. The only difference in the crime scene was that instead of the word "gluttony" painted above the headboard, the word "lust" was displayed instead.

But, it takes three kills to label a murderer a serial killer. The killer had now taken his third victim. Fourteen days after the death Carrie Johnston and seven days after the death Morgan Price, fifty-two year old Richard Parker had been murdered in his home. His wife and daughter discovered him six days later upon returning from visiting a top college. Parker had been days away from closing a business deal that would ensure his larger company's takeover of several small businesses in the suburbs. The details all matched the previous two killings: gun victim killed by a single shot, dressed in a dirty white shroud, placed on the bed with red lettering painted upon the wall. Gluttony, lust, and now greed had had brought forth their angels of death and taken three innocent people.

Of all the killings, only Richard Parker's could have any semblance of motivation, as the small businesses that were being closed could have possibly created bad blood towards Parker's larger company. Most frustrating of all was that all three victims - Carrie, Morgan, and Richard - seemed to have no connections whatsoever. Even drawing from exhaustive resources, such as financials, travel, education, phone and email, and even gym memberships, there was not even the slightest connection between the deceased. That was, other than sin. And that was a needle in a haystack. As such, it was nearly impossible to determine where the killer would strike next. Who was in danger, and why? All that could be known was that the clock was ticking; the detectives had a limited amount of time before they would find body number four with their sin labeled above his or her final resting place in a humiliating public declaration.

Rebecca had arrived back at her desk in the precinct around 11:30 that morning after a thorough sweep of the crime scene. As usual, the killer had not left any evidence or shred of biological material that would lead the detectives to an arrest. The victim's body had been transported to the morgue, but all the autopsy would reveal were facts already known by the detectives. The man had been dead for six days and discovered only when his family returned home from a trip. A sedative compound laced with a hallucinogen was administered via the thigh, reducing the victim to a compliant, empty shell of a person, who was then killed by a single-point shot to the head. Ballistics confirmed that the bullet was of the same caliber and fired from the same gun in every execution. Of greatest concern was that the gun matched those typically carried in the police squad. Tracing that type of gun to an owner in the city would create thousands of hits, and the lead was almost a dead end.

She reached into her bag and pulled out the manila file folder that contained the new data for the investigation. Photographs of the victim were clipped to the whiteboard, and pertinent information was frantically scribbled below in sprawling black dry-erase marker. Rebecca sat back on her desk and reached behind her to grab her now-cold cappuccino to take a long sip. Making a face, she looked down at the coffee in disgust and set it back on the desk.

She stared at her whiteboard, absentmindedly twirling a black dry-erase marker between her thumb and forefinger. The profile pictures of Johnston, Price and Parker procured from their Department of Motor Vehicles files mocked her as she racked her brain for any possible connection; any trace left behind that could evidence who the killer had in his crosshairs. Richard Parker had been found today, six days after his death. Rebecca now found herself within the 48-hour window that could possibly save victim number four. If she failed to find a connection, even a wild stab in the dark, the blood of another innocent would be on her hands.

She'd established the connection to the 7 Deadly Sins upon discovering Richard Parker's body. Gluttony, lust and greed had all been eliminated. Now, that only left sloth, wrath, pride, and deceit. The four remaining sins were written in all-capital letters down the leftmost side of the whiteboard. In a city like New York, it was almost impossible to generate lists of who would fit the profile for each sin. Furthermore, what if Rebecca's definition of that sin differed from that of the killer's?

Rebecca sighed heavily. She was running out of time. Quickly.

Glenn came up beside her and folded his arms, switching his gaze between Riley and the board.

"Any luck?" he asked. Rebecca shook her head, still transfixed on the faces of the deceased.

"He's so careful," she started, "but so random. It's almost as if she wants to send a message that she doesn't discriminate in her kills. I mean, she does, but only to a small extent. And I can't figure out if that's just to create panic or serve some larger agenda."

"Maybe she's trying to make a point," Glenn observed. "Maybe she doesn't discriminate because we all sin."

"Or maybe she's just picking the worst sinner that she can find for each," Rebecca countered. As soon as the words left her mouth, she knew the idea didn't make sense. If the killer really was going for the greediest, most lustful, or most gluttonous person, she certainly wouldn't have picked these three victims.

Wrath. Pride. Deceit. Sloth. Four sins left, and under forty-eight hours to figure it out.

Glenn patted Rebecca's shoulder supportively and walked away. Rebecca's head was spinning, crunching all the data, processing all the information she had already reviewed numerous times before. Just then, the phone on her desk rang. Rebecca reached behind her and only half-listened as she continued to mull over the murder board.

"Detective Singer," she greeted in a dull monotone.

"Do you know what your sin is, Detective Singer?" a voice rasped through the phone. Rebecca immediately clasped her hand over the phone and motioned to the next desk where a techie was lazily brushing powdered sugar from a donut off his black button down shirt.

"Trace the call!" she hissed through clenched teeth. Now, her only concern was keeping the killer on the line long enough to trace the incoming line. Her mind spun a mile a minute as she scrambled to think of what to say to stall the conversation.

"I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about," she managed to stammer into the line.

"Surely you do," the voice sneered in response. "All have sinned and fallen short. We are all sinful creatures, polluting the perfect creation, and we deserve to be exiled from the garden. Do you know what your sin is, Rebecca Singer?"

The techie pumped his fist triumphantly in the air. He'd been able to trace the line. Filled with newfound confidence, Rebecca addressed the killer.

"I'm coming to find you," she hissed. "And I know I'm going to get you. So, my sin is undoubtedly pride."

Rebecca's car screeched to a stop in front of the house to which the phone had been traced. The killer used a cell phone, and the precinct had locked onto the GPS signal as she stalked her next victim. The Hamilton family lived in a one-story home in New Jersey, just inside the suburban boundaries of New York City. New Jersey police and NYPD had both been dispatched and now surrounded the house in a myriad of flashing blue and red lights. The supposed victim was Jared Hamilton, 35, who was an employee of Subway by day, but an avid gamer and roleplayer by night. Jared's social networking profile boasted that he spent up to 11 hours a day gaming online. His record had been 38 straight hours during a gaming tournament last April, a fact that he proudly displayed online as well.

Certainly, he wasn't the laziest person in the world, but it just might be the type of sin the killer was looking for; namely, the sin of sloth. Rebecca's only hope now was that she could pre-empt the killer's inevitable strike.

"He's not home yet, sweetheart," a New Jersey cop taunted Rebecca as she approached the house, pulling her jacket tightly around her body to preserve some warmth against the cold November air. Rebecca continued to press forward until she was within arm's reach of the cop.

"I beg your pardon?" she asked, flashing her badge.

The cop shrugged. "Hamilton was actually scheduled for a shift today," he explained. "He's working until 6 tonight and probably won't arrive home until 6:15 or 6:30." Rebecca nodded once, contemplating her options.

"Have the squad cars fall out," she instructed. "We'll keep a monitored watch on the Hamilton residence until Jared returns home. When he does, the killer will likely make her move. We'll be waiting for her attack and catch her in the home." Rebecca involuntarily shuddered at the prospect of using a supposed victim as bait, but all other options were dangerously able to fall short of apprehending the killer.

The cops did as instructed and the afternoon wore on as the small amount of sunshine quickly dissipated and fell below the western horizon. Waiting inside the Hamilton residence, Rebecca switched out her jacket for a bulletproof vest, and laid in wait. She would routinely glance over at the video monitoring system that covered all points of entry in and out of the home. Around 6:15 PM, Jared Hamilton arrived home and was promptly escorted back outside to the waiting sanctuary of a protected patrol car. Rebecca crept into the basement and waited, eyes glued to the remote imaging monitor.

Then, the figure she was waiting for approached the back deck, slid open the unlocked glass sliding door, and made its way into the home. Rebecca slunk up the stairs, pistol firmly gripped in both hands. Pressing herself against the doorframe, she raised the pistol and unlocked the safety. The footsteps grew closer… closer…

Riley appeared from behind the doorframe and aimed the pistol at the woman clad entirely in black who had infiltrated the house, moving forward and closing her distance.

"NYPD; put your hands up!" she commanded. The killer produced a similar pistol from her belt and fired off a warning shot before turning and running down the hallway, skidding sharply to the right, and bolting through the front door. Rebecca followed in hot pursuit.

The killer in black ran down suburban blocks, twisting and turning, trying to put distance between herself and the cop behind her. Rebecca pumped her legs as fast as they would carry her. She radioed in the chase and cars began to wail, a police cruiser cutting off the killer and forcing her to make a sharp turn left. Rebecca turned to follow, and continued to run until the killer jumped over a shrub and into the parking lot of a pharmacy. Rebecca continued, running around the shrub, gun ready to fire at a moment's notice.

Rebecca ran along the side of the building and caught sight of the killer, who had begun to lose speed as she continued to charge towards a tall, chain-link fence. Right before she could jump and climb, Rebecca closed the distance to where a shot could easily take down the fleeing suspect.

"Get down on the ground!" she yelled, startling the killer. "You're under arrest for the murders of Carrie Johnston, Morgan…"

Rebecca couldn't finish her sentence as the killer fired off another shot, which grazed the side of her arm. Tongues of fire assaulted Rebecca's arm, who screamed in pain and grabbed the wound. The lapse was only temporary, as Rebecca fired off a shot which landed squarely in the killer's chest. The killer fell backwards, staggering into the dumpster, uncoordinated hands fumbling to staunch the flow of blood from her sternum. Rebecca fired again, and the killer slumped to the ground, body curled slightly, blood flowing freely from two gunshot wounds to the chest. Sirens screamed in the background as backup police cruisers came speeding into the parking lot, screeching to a stop, bathing the once uneventful parking lot in flashing red and blue lights.

Hatred coursing through her veins, she walked towards the newly still body. She wanted nothing more than to rip that mask off the killer's face and look into the eyes of the one who had murdered the innocent.

She knelt to the ground, reaching for the seam of the mask at the base of the killer's neck. Brashly, she pulled it off of the killer's head and tossed it aside.

The face of the killer was her own.

John 8:7 – "And as they continued to ask Him, He stood up and said to them 'Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.'"

Author's Note:Re-write. Hurr. I find that things I wrote in high school (2009 and prior) are deplorable and I can't even edit them, and the things I wrote in college ('09-'13) are only marginally better. And I thought I was improving. Psh. I'm not sure I'm happy with this, despite all the feedback I received from my beta-reader. As such, I'm open to any and all constructive criticism you have to offer! Thanks for taking the time to read and review!