The body had been cleaned and was covered with a simple white sheet. Detective Hester Prynne, fresh off an internal review, was called to the scene at Franklin Park. Her partner Richard Bellingham was already there.
“So, how’d it go?” Bellingham asked.
“Just as I thought,” Hester said. “Dimmesdale lied through his teeth, said that he tried breaking off the affair, but I threatened to expose him. And with Dimmesdale’s connections, there was no way they would believe me over him.”
“Hmmm …” was all Bellingham said.
“Oh, don’t give me that I-told-you-so voice. I know it was dumb to get involved with him, but —”
“But I was so in love,” Bellingham teased with a cheeky smile and a forced falsetto.
“Fuck you, Bellsy,” Hester said, but she was laughing at his horrible impersonation of her.
“So what now?” Bellingham asked.
“Six months’ probation, and busted down to Detective Second Grade.”
“Oh, I know.”
“What about Dimmesdale?”
“Temporarily assigned to an administrative position, but he still gets to be the precinct shrink.”
Bellingham just shook his head.
“Hey detectives, you might want to take a look at this.” It was Philbin, the Medical Examiner.
Philbin was pointing to a spot on the back of the victim’s head. “Look, there’s a small letter ‘A’ carved behind her left ear.”
“Fuck me, not another one,” Bellingham said.
“I told you, Bellsy, that we would see this MO again,” Hester said. “And I have a feeling this won’t be the last one.”
Her prediction proved to be prophetic.
Hester sat across the desk from Captain Roger Chillingworth. Bellingham was in the chair next to her, nervously chewing on a toothpick. There were five victims now, and the case was far from being solved. The captain had been thrown under the bus by the mayor and wasn’t opposed to dragging Hester and Bellingham down with him.
“What do we know about the victims?” the captain asked.
“Well,” Hester said, looking at her notes. “All of the victims are female and were married. Other than that, they had nothing in common. One was a stay-at-home mother of two, the others worked various jobs, and from what we could gather, they had never met. They’d all gone out at different times on different days, and never returned home.”
“Guess they had that in common too,” Roger said disdainfully. Then he turned to Bellingham and asked, “What about the husbands?”
“Two had airtight alibis; the other three a little less so. We’ve got some more digging to do, but I think they’re dead ends.”
“So what the two of you are telling me is that you’ve got nothing,” Chillingworth said, making a point to look at Hester.
“No,” she retorted. “I would say we’ve eliminated some things and have narrowed our search.”
Chillingworth looked at Hester. He couldn’t disguise his contempt for her. Arthur Dimmesdale’s wife Pearl was his sister, and after what she’d done, the captain thought Hester deserved to be kicked off the force. Since she wasn’t, he was going to make sure her life was a living hell.
“In the meantime,” Chillingworth said, “five women are dead and this guy is still running free. Sounds like a lot of nothing to me.”
Bellingham stepped in before things got too heated between Chillingworth and Hester. “Captain, we’ll get on it.” He grabbed Hester’s arm and dragged his partner from the captain’s office before she said something they both regretted.
“What a fuck head,” Hester said once they were back at their desks.
“Maybe, but that fuck head can ruin your career,” Bellingham said. “Chillingworth is looking for any reason to get rid of you, so don’t give him one.”
Hester nodded, but inside she seethed. “It was both of us, you know. Arthur wasn’t a victim in this.”
“I know,” Bellingham said. “But the best thing you can do to give the captain a big fuck you is solve this case.”
Hester knew her partner was right.
It was the brainless Tom Whittaker from Channel 7 News that dubbed them “The Scarlet Letter Murders.” Hester hated the name, but it stuck.
“With the death toll up to five bodies,” Whittaker said, wearing his most serious journalist face, “what do police have to show for it?” Then in a very dramatic fashion, he turned to the memorial plaque in the park dedicated to the victims of the Scarlett Letter Murderer, and said, “Absolutely nothing. Back to you, Linda.”
Chillingworth shut the TV off and glared at Hester and Billingham. “Get me some results, or I’ll find two cops who can.”
“Yes, Captain,” Bellingham said.
Hester said nothing, but Chillingworth saw the look on her face as she left, and he did not like it one bit.
Arthur Dimmesdale was watching news coverage of the press conference given by Hester Prynne. He smiled, pleased that she was the lead on the Scarlet Letter case. After what he said at the inquiry, Arthur wasn’t sure if she’d even keep her job.
He still ached for Hester and felt terrible about how he depicted her in front of the commission, but Arthur believed he had little choice.
“Look, Arthur,” his lawyer said, “the department is willing to go easier on you, but you have to give them Hester.” And with his wife Pearl and the attorney putting pressure on him, Arthur simply gave in.
“I resisted at first,” Arthur had said to the internal affairs review board. “But Hester can be a very persuasive woman. I’m not excusing myself, but she would visit me after hours, dressed in these skimpy outfits, and eventually I was weak and gave in. I deserve whatever punishment the board has in store for me, because nothing could be worse than what my wife has endured. I’m sorry, honey.”
Arthur and Pearl looked lovingly at one another, and it worked on several members of the panel. A nice touch.
“Why didn’t you report her to her superiors?” Arthur’s attorney asked.
“Well, I didn’t want to get her into any trouble,” Arthur said. “She’d made great progress in our sessions, and I was worried how it would affect her if I reported her behavior.”
His eyes met Hester’s, and the look in them told Arthur everything. That Hester knew she would take the fall for all of it, and that he was the key reason why.
Arthur continued watching Hester at the press conference, speaking so clearly and confidently, and he thought about their last night together — when he told Hester that he loved her.
The smile on her face, how happy he’d felt. Then it was all over when Pearl burst into that hotel room, followed by her brother Roger Chillingworth.
“I’m sorry, Hester,” Arthur said, his hands touching her image on the TV screen.
He knew that he had to see her again, to explain himself and ask her for forgiveness.
Headlines screamed across the local papers, and the story led every segment on the nightly news broadcasts. “Lead Investigator in the Scarlet Letter Murders, Caught Up in Extra Marital Affair.”
When Hester arrived at work that morning, Chillingworth called her into his office.
“I’m pulling you off the case,” he said without looking up from his desk. “I’m handing the reins over to Bellingham.”
“Is this because of the news stories? Captain, they’ll die down, but we’re in the midd—”
“Of course that’s the reason,” he interrupted. “I can’t let your poor personal choices become a distraction in a case as important as this.”
“It wasn’t just my choices, captain. I know you’d like to believe that it was just me and poor old Arthur was helpless, but you’re too smart for that. Arthur was just as much a part of it as I was.”
“Get out, Prynne, or you’ll be back in uniform and on traffic duty.”
Hester stood looking at Chillingworth for a few more moments. “I wonder who tipped off the media about what was said in that closed hearing?” Hester said looking right at the captain.
“You accusing me of something, Prynne?”
“Of course not, Captain. I’m just wondering out loud.”
Then Hester stood up and went back to her desk.
Bellingham could barely look at her. “I never wanted this, Hester. You gotta know that.”
“I know, Bellsy,” Hester said. “Chillingworth had been looking for a way to get me off this case from the beginning. Those headlines gave him the justification he needed.”
“You go catch that fucker, Bellsy,” Hester said.
It was almost 8 pm when Hester made it home. She’d had a mind numbing day of answering domestic calls, topped off by a convenience store robbery committed by teens with nothing better to do. Her interim partner was a fifteen-year veteran named Simpson who believed all the rumors going around about Hester being an easy conquest, and he spent their entire shift not-so-subtly flirting with her.
They were back at the precinct finishing up paperwork before heading home.
“Wanna go out for a drink?” Simpson asked.
“No thanks,” Hester said.
Simpson snorted, “Guess ya gotta have a PhD to get into those pants.”
“Not even a PhD would help you, Simpson,” Hester said, and headed to her car.
When Hester pulled into her driveway she wasn’t surprised to see Dimmesdale parked out front.
“I’ve been trying to reach you for weeks, Hester. Why haven’t you returned my calls?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because you’re a fucking liar. That didn’t quite put me in the mood for chattin’.”
“I never intended to hurt you, Hester.”
“Well, it was the result, regardless of what you intended.”
“Hester, please, I just want to talk.”
Prynne looked at him and shook her head. “Go away, Arthur. I’ve got nothing to say to you.”
She turned, and Arthur grabbed her arm. “You were so broken when you first came to see me, Hester. I always looked forward to our sessions.”
His grip tightened.
“Let me go, Arthur.”
But Arthur didn’t. He just kept talking, as if she said nothing.
“You needed someone to listen to you and not judge. That was the only way you would open up to me. When you finally let me in, that’s when I fell in love with you — when I saw that vulnerability, I wanted to protect you and take care of you.”
“Well you helped, all right. You helped me get demoted, as well as kicked off the biggest case of my career.”
Arthur looked as if someone punched him. “They can’t,” he said.
“Well they did.”
“I was happy to see that you had gotten that first murder. I thought, what were the odds that case would land in your lap. But when it did, I knew I had done the right thing.”
“What are you talking about, Arthur?”
“Those women couldn’t hold a candle to you,” Arthur said. “The first one, she looked like you, but she was so simple, so worthless.”
“What did you do, Arthur?”
“I couldn’t have you, but I thought I could find someone like you. Don’t you see, I needed you even more than you needed me.”
Arthur moved closer to Hester. “I don’t know what I was expecting from women who answer ads on the internet. Trash, they all were trash. I can’t believe I thought they could replace you.”
Hester began shaking her head and backing away.
“I love you so much, Hester. I wanted to see you again to tell you how sorry I was about what I said in that hearing. I know I have to pay the price for my actions. I can’t let you take the blame all by yourself.”
Then Arthur lifted his shirt, and Hester saw a large bloody letter “A” crudely carved on his chest. “This is my penance, Hester.”
“Arthur …” Hester’s voice was barely above a whisper.
She hadn’t seen the knife before. It seemed as if it magically appeared at his side.
There was a crazed look in Arthur’s eyes, and he hadn’t seen Hester draw her gun, didn’t notice her lifting it as he came toward her.
“Join me, Hester. Then I can have you forever. We can be together forever.”
Arthur lunged at Hester, who lifted the gun and pulled the trigger. In the alcove just outside her front door, the shot was incredibly loud, but Hester didn’t notice; all she saw was Arthur Dimmesdale’s dead body lying at her feet.
“He had items from the victims hidden in his office,” Bellingham told Hester as she sat in one of the precinct interrogation rooms, waiting to give her statement.
Chillingworth came in. He looked around the room awkwardly, then asked Hester, “You alright?”
“Glad you’re okay, Prynne,” the captain said before quickly leaving the room.
Pearl Dimmesdale had arrived, her eyes red from crying. Chillingworth tried ushering her into his office before she saw Hester, but it was too late.
“I just want to talk to her, Roger,” Hester heard Pearl say to the captain.
“Pearl, you know I can’t let that happen.”
Hester stepped out of the room. “It’s fine, Captain.”
She surprised both Chillingworth and Pearl, but Hester believed she owed Pearl Dimmesdale an audience.
The two women stood looking at each other, adversaries of sorts, who loved and lost the same man.
Hester was determined to remain quiet, to let Pearl tell her exactly what she had on her mind.
“He loved you in a way he never loved me,” Pearl said quietly. “I am as angry with him as I am with you.”
The whole precinct was watching closely. The room was so quiet, all Hester could hear was the whirring of the air conditioner.
Hester still said nothing and this angered Pearl. “Don’t you have anything to say? How can you stand there and say nothing.”
“What can I possibly say that will do any good? I slept with Arthur knowing he was married, it was wrong, and I understand your anger with me.”
“Tell me you are sorry. That’s what I want to hear from you.”
“I am so sorry. If I could, I would take it all back.”
Pearl nodded. She smiled through her tears. “It’s too late for that now,” she said.
Hester saw both Chillingworth and Bellingham rushing toward her, even before she felt the pain. She looked at Pearl, who was brandishing a letter opener, one she had taken from the captain’s desk. Pearl was quick and efficient, and plunged the blade deep into the soft flesh of Hester’s belly well before it registered to her what was happening.
Hester backed away. Blood oozed out, hot and thick between her fingers. Chaos ensued as someone pushed Pearl to the ground and cuffed her.
Pearl was wearing a sadistic smile as she screamed, “This is what you deserve, you whore, for taking my Arthur from me.”
Then Pearl was dragged from the room.
Bellingham was holding Hester, talking to her. “Stay with me, partner. An ambulance is on its way.”
Hester was surprised that she didn’t feel any pain, especially since there was so much blood. She tried telling Bellingham something, but found it hard to talk. “What’s that, partner?” Bellingham asked.
“I’m sorry, I fucked this up. I’m so sorry,” Hester said.
Strangely she felt a sense of relief, the whole weight of what she’d done lifted when Pearl Dimmesdale enacted her revenge.
Chillingworth stood above her, along with men and women she worked with for years, most of whom condemned her after word of the affair broke.
Hester was at peace. She looked at all of them and smiled. Then Hester Prynne closed her eyes.
This story was inspired by The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.